BACKGROUND: Resting cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in striatum and thalamus is increased in medicated patients with psychosis, but whether this is caused by treatment or illness pathology is unclear. Specifically, effects of partial dopamine agonism, sex, and clinical correlates on rCBF are sparsely investigated. We therefore assessed rCBF in antipsychotic-naïve psychosis patients before and after aripiprazole monotherapy and related findings to sex and symptom improvement.
METHODS: We assessed rCBF with the pseudo-Continuous Arterial Spin Labeling (PCASL) sequence in 49 first-episode patients (22.6 ± 5.2 years, 58% females) and 50 healthy controls (HCs) (22.3 ± 4.4 years, 63% females) at baseline and in 29 patients and 49 HCs after six weeks. RCBF in striatum and thalamus was estimated with a region-of-interest (ROI) approach. Psychopathology was assessed with the positive and negative syndrome scale.
RESULTS: Baseline rCBF in striatum and thalamus was not altered in the combined patient group compared with HCs, but female patients had lower striatal rCBF compared with male patients (p = 0.009). Treatment with a partial dopamine agonist increased rCBF significantly in striatum (p = 0.006) in the whole patient group, but not significantly in thalamus. Baseline rCBF in nucleus accumbens was negatively associated with improvement in positive symptoms (p = 0.046), but baseline perfusion in whole striatum and thalamus was not related to treatment outcome.
CONCLUSIONS: The findings suggest that striatal perfusion is increased by partial dopamine agonism and decreased in female patients prior to first treatment. This underlines the importance of treatment effects and sex differences when investigating the neurobiology of psychosis.