PET studies of the glial cell marker TSPO in psychosis patients - a meta-analysis using individual participant data

Pontus Plavén-Sigray, Granville J. Matheson, Karin Collste, Abhishekh H. Ashok, Jennifer M. Coughlin, Oliver D. Howes, Romina Mizrahi, Martin G. Pomper, Pablo Rusjan, Mattia Veronese, Yuchuan Wang, Simon Cervenka

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Accumulating evidence suggests that the immune system may be an important target for new treatment approaches in schizophrenia. Positron emission tomography and radioligands binding to the translocator protein (TSPO), which is expressed in glial cells in the brain including immune cells, represents a potential method for patient stratification and treatment monitoring. This study examined whether patients with first-episode psychosis and schizophrenia had altered TSPO levels compared with healthy control subjects.


PubMed was searched for studies comparing patients with psychosis with healthy control subjects using second-generation TSPO radioligands. The outcome measure was total distribution volume (VT), an index of TSPO levels, in frontal cortex, temporal cortex, and hippocampus. Bayes factors (BFs) were applied to examine the relative support for higher, lower, or no difference in patients’ TSPO levels compared with healthy control subjects.


Five studies, with 75 participants with first-episode psychosis or schizophrenia and 77 healthy control subjects, were included. BFs showed strong support for lower VT in patients relative to no difference (all BFs > 32), or relative to higher VT (all BFs > 422), in all brain regions. From the posterior distributions, mean patient–control differences in standardized VT values were −0.48 for frontal cortex (95% credible interval [CredInt] = −0.88 to 0.09), −0.47 for temporal cortex (CredInt = −0.87 to −0.07), and −0.63 for hippocampus (CredInt = −1.00 to −0.25).


The lower levels of TSPO observed in patients may correspond to altered function or lower density of brain immune cells. Future studies should focus on investigating the underlying biological mechanisms and their relevance for treatment.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBiological psychiatry
Early online date6 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2018


  • Positron Emission Tomography
  • psychosis
  • schizophrenia
  • translocator protein
  • microglia
  • immuneactivation
  • meta-analysis


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