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The influence of risk factors on the onset and outcome of psychosis: What we learned from the GAP study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-68
Number of pages6
JournalSchizophrenia Research
Early online date6 Feb 2020
E-pub ahead of print6 Feb 2020
PublishedNov 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier B.V.

King's Authors


The GAP multidisciplinary study carried out in South London, recruited 410 first episode of psychosis patients and 370 controls; the aim was to elucidate the multiple genetic and environmental factors influencing the onset and outcome of psychosis. The study demonstrated the risk increasing effect of adversity in childhood (especially parental loss, abuse, and bullying) on onset of psychosis especially positive symptoms. Adverse life events more proximal to onset, being from an ethnic minority, and cannabis use also played important roles; indeed, one quarter of new cases of psychosis could be attributed to use of high potency cannabis. The "jumping to conclusions" bias appeared to mediate the effect of lower IQ on vulnerability to psychosis. We confirmed that environmental factors operate on the background of polygenic risk, and that genetic and environment act together to push individuals over the threshold for manifesting the clinical disorder. The study demonstrated how biological pathways involved in the stress response (HPA axis and immune system) provide important mechanisms linking social risk factors to the development of psychotic symptoms. Further evidence implicating an immune/inflammatory component to psychosis came from our finding of complement dysregulation in FEP. Patients also showed an upregulation of the antimicrobial alpha-defensins, as well as differences in expression patterns of genes involved in NF-κB signaling and Cytokine Production. Being of African origin not only increased risk of onset but also of a more difficult course of illness. The malign effect of childhood adversity predicted a poorer outcome as did continued use of high potency cannabis.

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