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Is psychosis a multisystem disorder? A meta-review of central nervous system, immune, cardiometabolic, and endocrine alterations in first-episode psychosis and perspective on potential models

Molecular Psychiatry (2018) | Download Citation


People with psychotic disorders show abnormalities in several organ systems in addition to the central nervous system (CNS); and this contributes to excess mortality. However, it is unclear how strong the evidence is for alterations in non-CNS systems at the onset of psychosis, how the alterations in non-CNS systems compare to those in the CNS, or how they relate to symptoms. Here, we consider these questions, and suggest potential models to account for findings. We conducted a systematic meta-review to summarize effect sizes for both CNS (focusing on brain structural, neurophysiological, and neurochemical parameters) and non-CNS dysfunction (focusing on immune, cardiometabolic, and hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) systems) in first-episode psychosis (FEP). Relevant meta-analyses were identified in a systematic search of Pubmed and the methodological quality of these was assessed using the AMSTAR checklist (A Measurement Tool to Assess Systematic Reviews). Case–control data were extracted from studies included in these meta-analyses. Random effects meta-analyses were re-run and effect size magnitudes for individual parameters were calculated, as were summary effect sizes for each CNS and non-CNS system. We also grouped studies to obtain overall effect sizes for non-CNS and CNS alterations. Robustness of data for non-CNS and CNS parameters was assessed using Rosenthal’s fail-safe N. We next statistically compared summary effect size for overall CNSand overall non-CNS alterations, as well as for each organ system separately. We also examined how non-CNS alterations correlate CNS alterations, and with psychopathological symptoms. Case-control data were extracted for 165 studies comprising a total sample size of 13,440. For people with first episode psychosis compared with healthy controls, we observed alterations in immune parameters (summary effect size: g = 1.19), cardiometabolic parameters (g = 0.23); HPA parameters (g = 0.68); brain structure (g = 0.40); neurophysiology (g = 0.80); and neurochemistry (g = 0.43). Grouping non-CNS organ systems together provided an effect size for overall non-CNS alterations in patients compared with controls (g = 0.58), which was not significantly different from the overall CNS alterations effect size (g = 0.50). However, the summary effect size for immune alterations was significantly greater than that for brain structural (P < 0.001) and neurochemical alterations (P < 0.001), while the summary effect size for cardiometabolic alterations was significantly lower than neurochemical (P = 0.04), neurophysiological (P < 0.001), and brain structural alterations (P = 0.001). The summary effect size for HPA alterations was not significantly different from brain structural (P = 0.14), neurophysiological (P = 0.54), or neurochemical alterations (P = 0.22). These outcomes remained similar in antipsychotic naive sensitivity analyses. We found some, but limited and inconsistent, evidence that non-CNS alterations were associated with CNS changes and symptoms in first episode psychosis. Our findings indicate that there are robust alterations in non-CNS systems in psychosis, and that these are broadly similar in magnitude to a range of CNS alterations. We consider models that could account for these findings and discuss implications for future research and treatment.

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We thank Dr Stefan Brugger of the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences for providing additional data.

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  1. IoPPN, King’s College London, De Crespigny Park, London, SE5 8AF, UK

    • Toby Pillinger
    • , Enrico D’Ambrosio
    • , Robert McCutcheon
    •  & Oliver D Howes
  2. MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (LMS), Du Cane Road, London, W12 0NN, UK

    • Oliver D Howes
  3. Institute of Clinical Sciences (ICS), Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, Du Cane Road, London, W12 0NN, UK

    • Oliver D Howes


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Correspondence to Oliver D Howes.

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