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Journal: Schizophrenia bulletin


Schizophrenia has historically been considered to be a deteriorating disease, a view reinforced by recent MRI findings of progressive brain tissue loss over the early years of illness. On the other hand, the notion that recovery from schizophrenia is possible is increasingly embraced by consumer and family groups. This review critically examines the evidence from longitudinal studies of (1) clinical outcomes, (2) MRI brain volumes, and (3) cognitive functioning. First, the evidence shows that although approximately 25% of people with schizophrenia have a poor long-term outcome, few of these show the incremental loss of function that is characteristic of neurodegenerative illnesses. Second, MRI studies demonstrate subtle developmental abnormalities at first onset of psychosis and then further decreases in brain tissue volumes; however, these latter decreases are explicable by the effects of antipsychotic medication, substance abuse, and other secondary factors. Third, while patients do show cognitive deficits compared with controls, cognitive functioning does not appear to deteriorate over time. The majority of people with schizophrenia have the potential to achieve long-term remission and functional recovery. The fact that some experience deterioration in functioning over time may reflect poor access, or adherence, to treatment, the effects of concurrent conditions, and social and financial impoverishment. Mental health professionals need to join with patients and their families in understanding that schizophrenia is not a malignant disease that inevitably deteriorates over time but rather one from which most people can achieve a substantial degree of recovery.

Concepts: Psychology, Medicine, Cancer, Brain, Cognition, Antipsychotic, Schizophrenia, Psychiatry


Paranoia is receiving increasing attention in its own right, since it is a central experience of psychotic disorders and a marker of the health of a society. Paranoia is associated with use of the most commonly taken illicit drug, cannabis. The objective was to determine whether the principal psychoactive ingredient of cannabis-∆(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-causes paranoia and to use the drug as a probe to identify key cognitive mechanisms underlying paranoia. A randomized, placebo-controlled, between-groups test of the effects of intravenous THC was conducted. A total of 121 individuals with paranoid ideation were randomized to receive placebo, THC, or THC preceded by a cognitive awareness condition. Paranoia was assessed extensively via a real social situation, an immersive virtual reality experiment, and standard self-report and interviewer measures. Putative causal factors were assessed. Principal components analysis was used to create a composite paranoia score and composite causal variables to be tested in a mediation analysis. THC significantly increased paranoia, negative affect (anxiety, worry, depression, negative thoughts about the self), and a range of anomalous experiences, and reduced working memory capacity. The increase in negative affect and in anomalous experiences fully accounted for the increase in paranoia. Working memory changes did not lead to paranoia. Making participants aware of the effects of THC had little impact. In this largest study of intravenous THC, it was definitively demonstrated that the drug triggers paranoid thoughts in vulnerable individuals. The most likely mechanism of action causing paranoia was the generation of negative affect and anomalous experiences.

Concepts: Anxiety, Psychology, Greek loanwords, Schizophrenia, Psychosis, Fear, Delusional disorder, Paranoia


A barrier to preventative treatments for psychosis is the absence of accurate identification of persons at highest risk. A blood test that could substantially increase diagnostic accuracy would enhance development of psychosis prevention interventions.

Concepts: Blood, Sample size, Measurement, Greek loanwords, Psychometrics, Reliability, Accuracy and precision, ANOVA Gauge R&R


Increased brain levels of the tryptophan metabolite kynurenic acid (KYNA) have been linked to cognitive dysfunctions in schizophrenia and other psychiatric diseases. In the rat, local inhibition of kynurenine aminotransferase II (KAT II), the enzyme responsible for the neosynthesis of readily mobilizable KYNA in the brain, leads to a prompt reduction in extracellular KYNA levels, and secondarily induces an increase in extracellular glutamate, dopamine, and acetylcholine levels in several brain areas. Using microdialysis in unanesthetized, adult rats, we now show that the novel, systemically active KAT II inhibitor BFF-816, applied orally at 30mg/kg in all experiments, mimics the effects of local enzyme inhibition. No tolerance was seen when animals were treated daily for 5 consecutive days. Behaviorally, daily injections of BFF-816 significantly decreased escape latency in the Morris water maze, indicating improved performance in spatial and contextual memory. Thus, systemically applied BFF-816 constitutes an excellent tool for studying the neurobiology of KYNA and, in particular, for investigating the mechanisms linking KAT II inhibition to changes in glutamatergic, dopaminergic, and cholinergic function in brain physiology and pathology.

Concepts: Nervous system, Psychology, Amino acid, Metabolism, Enzyme, Enzyme inhibitor, Kynurenic acid, Kynurenine


Cognitive deficits are pervasive among people with schizophrenia and treatment options are limited. There has been an increased interest in the neurocognitive benefits of exercise, but a comprehensive evaluation of studies to date is lacking. We therefore conducted a meta-analysis of all controlled trials investigating the cognitive outcomes of exercise interventions in schizophrenia. Studies were identified from a systematic search across major electronic databases from inception to April 2016. Meta-analyses were used to calculate pooled effect sizes (Hedges g) and 95% CIs. We identified 10 eligible trials with cognitive outcome data for 385 patients with schizophrenia. Exercise significantly improved global cognition (g = 0.33, 95% CI = 0.13-0.53, P = .001) with no statistical heterogeneity (I (2) = 0%). The effect size in the 7 studies which were randomized controlled trials was g = 0.43 (P < .001). Meta-regression analyses indicated that greater amounts of exercise are associated with larger improvements in global cognition (β = .005, P = .065). Interventions which were supervised by physical activity professionals were also more effective (g = 0.47, P < .001). Exercise significantly improved the cognitive domains of working memory (g = 0.39, P = .024, N = 7, n = 282), social cognition (g = 0.71, P = .002, N = 3, n = 81), and attention/vigilance (g = 0.66, P = .005, N = 3, n = 104). Effects on processing speed, verbal memory, visual memory and reasoning and problem solving were not significant. This meta-analysis provides evidence that exercise can improve cognitive functioning among people with schizophrenia, particularly from interventions using higher dosages of exercise. Given the challenges in improving cognition, and the wider health benefits of exercise, a greater focus on providing supervised exercise to people with schizophrenia is needed.

Concepts: Better, Psychology, Improve, Randomized controlled trial, Cognition, Memory, Effect size, Meta-analysis


A number of studies have explored hallucinations as complex experiences involving interactions between psychological, biological, and environmental factors and mechanisms. Nevertheless, relatively little attention has focused on the role of culture in shaping hallucinations. This article reviews the published research, drawing on the expertise of both anthropologists and psychologists. We argue that the extant body of work suggests that culture does indeed have a significant impact on the experience, understanding, and labeling of hallucinations and that there may be important theoretical and clinical consequences of that observation. We find that culture can affect what is identified as a hallucination, that there are different patterns of hallucination among the clinical and nonclinical populations, that hallucinations are often culturally meaningful, that hallucinations occur at different rates in different settings; that culture affects the meaning and characteristics of hallucinations associated with psychosis, and that the cultural variations of psychotic hallucinations may have implications for the clinical outcome of those who struggle with psychosis. We conclude that a clinician should never assume that the mere report of what seems to be a hallucination is necessarily a symptom of pathology and that the patient’s cultural background needs to be taken into account when assessing and treating hallucinations.


Urban upbringing is associated with a 2-fold adulthood psychosis risk, and this association replicates for childhood psychotic symptoms. No study has investigated whether specific features of urban neighborhoods increase children’s risk for psychotic symptoms, despite these early psychotic phenomena elevating risk for schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders in adulthood.

Concepts: Longitudinal study, Greek loanwords, Mental disorder, Schizophrenia, Psychosis, Disability, Psychiatry, Schizoaffective disorder


Cannabis use is associated with working memory (WM) impairments; however, the relationship between cannabis use and WM neural circuitry is unclear. We examined whether a cannabis use disorder (CUD) was associated with differences in brain morphology between control subjects with and without a CUD and between schizophrenia subjects with and without a CUD, and whether these differences related to WM and CUD history. Subjects group-matched on demographics included 44 healthy controls, 10 subjects with a CUD history, 28 schizophrenia subjects with no history of substance use disorders, and 15 schizophrenia subjects with a CUD history. Large-deformation high-dimensional brain mapping with magnetic resonance imaging was used to obtain surface-based representations of the striatum, globus pallidus, and thalamus, compared across groups, and correlated with WM and CUD history. Surface maps were generated to visualize morphological differences. There were significant cannabis-related parametric decreases in WM across groups. Similar cannabis-related shape differences were observed in the striatum, globus pallidus, and thalamus in controls and schizophrenia subjects. Cannabis-related striatal and thalamic shape differences correlated with poorer WM and younger age of CUD onset in both groups. Schizophrenia subjects demonstrated cannabis-related neuroanatomical differences that were consistent and exaggerated compared with cannabis-related differences found in controls. The cross-sectional results suggest that both CUD groups were characterized by WM deficits and subcortical neuroanatomical differences. Future longitudinal studies could help determine whether cannabis use contributes to these observed shape differences or whether they are biomarkers of a vulnerability to the effects of cannabis that predate its misuse.

Concepts: Brain, Neuroscience, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebrum, Basal ganglia, Globus pallidus, Striatum, Primate basal ganglia system


The international Hearing Voices Movement (HVM) is a prominent mental health service-user/survivor movement that promotes the needs and perspectives of experts by experience in the phenomenon of hearing voices (auditory verbal hallucinations). The main tenet of the HVM is the notion that hearing voices is a meaningful human experience, and in this article, we discuss the historical growth and influence of the HVM before considering the implications of its values for research and practice in relation to voice-hearing. Among other recommendations, we suggest that the involvement of voice-hearers in research and a greater use of narrative and qualitative approaches are essential. Challenges for implementing user-led research are identified, and avenues for future developments are discussed.

Concepts: Psychology, Debate, Auditory system, Qualitative research, Schizophrenia, Research and development, Hearing Voices Movement


Auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH) are complex experiences that occur in the context of various clinical disorders. AVH also occur in individuals from the general population who have no identifiable psychiatric or neurological diagnoses. This article reviews research on AVH in nonclinical individuals and provides a cross-disciplinary view of the clinical relevance of these experiences in defining the risk of mental illness and need for care. Prevalence rates of AVH vary according to measurement tool and indicate a continuum of experience in the general population. Cross-sectional comparisons of individuals with AVH with and without need for care reveal similarities in phenomenology and some underlying mechanisms but also highlight key differences in emotional valence of AVH, appraisals, and behavioral response. Longitudinal studies suggest that AVH are an antecedent of clinical disorders when combined with negative emotional states, specific cognitive difficulties and poor coping, plus family history of psychosis, and environmental exposures such as childhood adversity. However, their predictive value for specific psychiatric disorders is not entirely clear. The theoretical and clinical implications of the reviewed findings are discussed, together with directions for future research.

Concepts: Psychology, Sociology, Mental disorder, Schizophrenia, Psychosis, Disability, Psychiatry, Mental illness