BACKGROUND: Altered cerebral blood flow (CBF) has been found in people at risk for psychosis, with first-episode psychosis (FEP) and with chronic schizophrenia (SCZ). Studies using arterial spin labelling (ASL) have shown reduction of cortical CBF and increased subcortical CBF in SCZ. Previous studies have investigated CBF using ASL in FEP, reporting increased CBF in striatum and reduced CBF in frontal cortex. However, as these people were taking antipsychotics, it is unclear whether these changes are related to the disorder or antipsychotic treatment and how they relate to treatment response.
METHODS: We examined CBF in FEP free from antipsychotic medication (N = 21), compared to healthy controls (N = 22). Both absolute and relative-to-global CBF were assessed. We also investigated the association between baseline CBF and treatment response in a partially nested follow-up study (N = 14).
RESULTS: There was significantly lower absolute CBF in frontal cortex (Cohen's d = 0.84, p = 0.009) and no differences in striatum or hippocampus. Whole brain voxel-wise analysis revealed widespread cortical reductions in absolute CBF in large cortical clusters that encompassed occipital, parietal and frontal cortices (Threshold-Free Cluster Enhancement (TFCE)-corrected <0.05). No differences were found in relative-to-global CBF in the selected region of interests and in voxel-wise analysis. Relative-to-global frontal CBF was correlated with percentage change in total Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale after antipsychotic treatment (r = 0.67, p = 0.008).
CONCLUSIONS: These results show lower cortical absolute perfusion in FEP prior to starting antipsychotic treatment and suggest relative-to-global frontal CBF as assessed with magnetic resonance imaging could potentially serve as a biomarker for antipsychotic response.