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More severe and persistent forms of affective disorders are accompanied by grey matter loss in key frontal and temporal structures. It is unclear whether such changes precede the onset of illness, occur early in the course or develop gradually with persistence or recurrence of illness. A total of 47 young people presenting with admixtures of depressive and psychotic symptoms were recruited from specialist early intervention services along with 33 age matched healthy control subjects. All participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging and patients were rated clinically as to current stage of illness. Twenty-three patients were identified as being at an early 'attenuated syndrome' stage, while the remaining were rated as having already reached the 'discrete disorder' or 'persistent or recurrent illness' stage. Contrasts were carried out between controls subjects and patients cohorts with attenuated syndromes and discrete disorders, separately.
The patients that were identified as having a discrete or persisting disorder demonstrated decreased grey matter volumes within distributed frontal brain regions when contrasted to both the control subjects as well as those patients in the attenuated syndrome stage. Overall, patients who were diagnosed as more advanced in terms of the clinical stage of their illness, exhibited the greatest grey matter volume loss of all groups.
This study suggests that, in terms of frontal grey matter changes, a major transition point may occur in the course of affective illness between early attenuated syndromes and later discrete illness stages.