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1.  Paternal age of schizophrenia probands and endophenotypic differences from unaffected siblings 
Psychiatry research  2014;219(1):67-71.
To evaluate the discrepancy of endophenotypic performance between probands with schizophrenia and unaffected siblings by paternal age at proband birth, a possible marker for de novo mutations.
Pairs of schizophrenia probands and unaffected siblings (N=220 pairs) were evaluated on 11 neuropsychological or neurophysiological endophenotypes previously identified as heritable. For each endophenotype, the sibling-minus-proband differences were transformed to standardized scores. Then for each pair, the average discrepancy was calculated from its standardized scores. We tested the hypothesis that the discrepancy is associated with paternal age, controlling for the number of endophenotypes shared between proband and his or her sibling, and proband age, which were both associated with paternal age.
The non-significant association between the discrepancy and paternal age was in the opposite direction from the hypothesis. Of the 11 endophenotypes only sensori-motor dexterity was significant, but in the opposite direction. Eight other endophenotypes were also in the opposite direction, but not significant.
The results did not support the hypothesized association of increased differences between sibling/proband pairs with greater paternal age. A possible explanation is that the identification of heritable endophenotypes was based on samples for which schizophrenia was attributable to inherited rather than de novo/non-inherited causes.
PMCID: PMC4110721  PMID: 24913833
de novo mutations; copy number variants; genetic risk; familial schizophrenia; sporadic schizophrenia
2.  Multi-site studies of acoustic startle and prepulse inhibition in humans: Initial experience and methodological considerations based on studies by the Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia 
Schizophrenia research  2007;92(1-3):237-251.
Startle and its inhibition by weak lead stimuli (“prepulse inhibition”: PPI) are studied to understand the neurobiology of information processing in patients and community comparison subjects (CCS). PPI has a strong genetic basis in infrahumans, and there is evidence for its heritability, stability and reliability in humans. PPI has gained increasing use as an endophenotype to identify vulnerability genes for brain disorders, including schizophrenia. Genetic studies now often employ multiple, geographically dispersed test sites to accommodate the need for large and complex study samples. Here, we assessed the feasibility of using PPI in multi-site studies.
Within a 7-site investigation with multiple measures, the Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia conducted a methodological study of acoustic startle and PPI in CCS. Methods were manualized, videotaped and standardized across sites with intensive in-person training sessions. Equipment was acquired and programmed at the “PPI site” (UCSD), and stringent quality assurance (QA) procedures were used. Testing was completed on 196 CCS over 2.5 years, with 5 primary startle dependent measures: eyeblink startle magnitude, habituation, peak latency, latency facilitation and PPI.
Analyses identified significant variability across sites in some but not all primary measures, and determined factors both within the testing process and subject characteristics that influenced a number of test measures. QA procedures also identified non-standardized practices with respect to testing methods and procedural “drift”, which may be particularly relevant to multi-site studies using these measures.
With thorough oversight and QA procedures, measures of acoustic startle PPI can be acquired reliably across multiple testing sites. Nonetheless, even among sites with substantial expertise in utilizing psychophysiological measures, multi-site studies using startle and PPI as dependent measures require careful attention to methodological procedures.
PMCID: PMC2039885  PMID: 17346930
endophenotype; prepulse inhibition; schizophrenia; sex differences; startle
3.  Comparison of the Heritability of Schizophrenia and Endophenotypes in the COGS-1 Family Study 
Schizophrenia Bulletin  2014;40(6):1404-1411.
Twin and multiplex family studies have established significant heritability for schizophrenia (SZ), often summarized as 81%. The Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia (COGS-1) family study was designed to deconstruct the genetic architecture of SZ using neurocognitive and neurophysiological endophenotypes, for which heritability estimates ranged from 18% to 50% (mean = 30%). This study assessed the heritability of SZ in these families to determine whether there is a “heritability gap” between the diagnosis and related endophenotypes.
Nuclear families (N = 296) with a SZ proband, an unaffected sibling, and both parents (n = 1366 subjects; mean family size = 4.6) underwent comprehensive endophenotype and clinical characterization. The Family Interview for Genetic Studies was administered to all participants and used to obtain convergent psychiatric symptom information for additional first-degree relatives of interviewed subjects (N = 3304 subjects; mean family size = 11.2). Heritability estimates of psychotic disorders were computed for both nuclear and extended families.
The heritability of SZ was 31% and 44% for nuclear and extended families. The inclusion of bipolar disorder increased the heritability to 37% for the nuclear families. When major depression was added, heritability estimates dropped to 34% and 20% for nuclear and extended families, respectively.
Endophenotypes and psychotic disorders exhibit comparable levels of heritability in the COGS-1 family sample. The ascertainment of families with discordant sibpairs to increase endophenotypic contrast may underestimate diagnostic heritability relative to other studies. However, population-based studies also report significantly lower heritability estimates for SZ. Collectively, these findings support the importance of endophenotype-based strategies and the dimensional view of psychosis.
PMCID: PMC4193725  PMID: 24903414
schizophrenia; psychosis; endophenotypes; cognition; biomarkers; heritability
4.  Antisaccade performance in schizophrenia patients, their first-degree biological relatives, and community comparison subjects: Data from the COGS study 
Psychophysiology  2010;47(5):846-856.
The antisaccade task is a widely used technique to measure failure of inhibition, an important cause of cognitive and clinical abnormalities found in schizophrenia. Although antisaccade performance, which reflects the ability to inhibit prepotent responses, is a putative schizophrenia endophenotype, researchers have not consistently reported the expected differences between first-degree relatives and comparison groups. Schizophrenia participants(n=219) from the large Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia (COGS) sample (n=1078) demonstrated significant deficits on an overlap version of the antisaccade task compared to their first-degree relatives (n=443) and community comparison subjects (CCS; n=416). Although mean antisaccade performance of first-degree relatives was intermediate between schizophrenia participants and CCS, a linear mixed-effects model adjusting for group, site, age, and gender found no significant performance differences between the first-degree relatives and CCS. However, admixture analyses showed that two components best explained the distributions in all three groups, suggesting two distinct doses of an etiological factor. Given the significant heritability of antisaccade performance, the effects of a genetic polymorphism is one possible explanation of our results.
PMCID: PMC4176871  PMID: 20374545
Oculomotor; Endophenotype; Antisaccade; Schizophrenia; Family
5.  Sex Differences in Familiality Effects on Neurocognitive Performance in Schizophrenia 
Biological psychiatry  2013;73(10):976-984.
Numerous studies have documented that patients with schizophrenia show neurocognitive impairments, which are also heritable in schizophrenia families. In view of these findings, the current investigation tested the hypothesis that neurocognitive performance of schizophrenia probands can predict the neurocognitive performance of their unaffected family members.
Participants (n=1,967; schizophrenia=369; first-degree relatives=1,072; community comparison subjects=526) in the Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia (COGS) were administered the Penn Computerized Neurocognitive Battery (CNB).
Consistent with prior work, probands showed significant neurocognitive impairment, and neurocognitive ability was significantly heritable, across domains. On average, unaffected relatives did not differ from community comparison subjects in their neurocognitive performance. However, in 6 of 7 domains, probands’ score predicted the performance of their unaffected siblings. Male, but not female, probands’ performance was predictive of their unaffected relatives (siblings and mothers) performance, most consistently in face memory and spatial processing.
Using a novel approach in which individual probands are paired with their respective unaffected relatives within each family, we found that male probands’ performance predicted both sister and brother performance, an effect that was most powerfully observed for face memory and spatial processing. Results suggest that the familial transmission of sexually dimorphic neurocognitive domains, in which a particular sex tends to show a performance advantage over the other, may not itself be sex specific in schizophrenia families.
PMCID: PMC3954126  PMID: 23395246
Schizophrenia; neurocognition; endophenotype; heritability; genetics; sex differences
6.  Genome-Wide Linkage Analyses of 12 Endophenotypes for Schizophrenia From the Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia 
The American journal of psychiatry  2013;170(5):10.1176/appi.ajp.2012.12020186.
The Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia has undertaken a large multisite study to characterize 12 neurophysiological and neurocognitive endophenotypic measures as a step toward understanding the complex genetic basis of schizophrenia. The authors previously demonstrated the heritability of these endophenotypes; in the present study, genetic linkage was evaluated.
Each family consisted of a proband with schizophrenia, at least one unaffected sibling, and both parents. A total of 1,286 participants from 296 families were genotyped in two phases, and 1,004 individuals were also assessed for the endophenotypes. Linkage analyses of the 6,055 single-nucleotide polymorphisms that were successfully assayed, 5,760 of which were common to both phases, were conducted using both variance components and pedigree-wide regression methods.
Linkage analyses of the 12 endophenotypes collectively identified one region meeting genome-wide significance criteria, with a LOD (log of odds) score of 4.0 on chromosome 3p14 for the antisaccade task, and another region on 1p36 nearly meeting genome-wide significance, with a LOD score of 3.5 for emotion recognition. Chromosomal regions meeting genome-wide suggestive criteria with LOD scores >2.2 were identified for spatial processing (2p25 and 16q23), sensorimotor dexterity (2q24 and 2q32), prepulse inhibition (5p15), the California Verbal Learning Test (8q24), the degraded-stimulus Continuous Performance Test (10q26), face memory (10q26 and 12p12), and the Letter-Number Span (14q23).
Twelve regions meeting genome-wide significant and suggestive criteria for previously identified heritable, schizophrenia-related endophenotypes were observed, and several genes of potential neurobiological interest were identified. Replication and further genomic studies are needed to assess the biological significance of these results.
PMCID: PMC3878873  PMID: 23511790
7.  Analysis of 94 Candidate Genes and Twelve Endophenotypes for Schizophrenia from the Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia 
The American journal of psychiatry  2011;168(9):930-946.
We have used a custom 1,536-SNP array to interrogate 94 functionally relevant candidate genes for schizophrenia and identify associations with 12 heritable neurophysiological and neurocognitive endophenotypes collected as part of the Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia (COGS).
Variance-component association analyses of 534 genotyped subjects from 130 families were conducted using Merlin. A novel bootstrap Total Significance Test was also developed to overcome the limitations of existing genomic multiple testing methods and robustly demonstrate the presence of significant associations in the context of complex family data and possible population stratification effects.
Associations were observed for 46 genes of potential functional significance with 3 SNPs at p<10−4, 27 SNPs at p<10−3, and 147 SNPs at p<0.01. The bootstrap analyses confirmed that the 47 SNP-endophenotype combinations with the strongest evidence of association significantly exceeded (p=0.001) that expected by chance alone with 93% of these findings expected to be true. Many of the genes interact on a molecular level, and eight genes displayed evidence for pleiotropy (e.g., NRG1 and ERBB4), revealing associations with four or more endophenotypes. Our results collectively support a strong role for genes related to glutamate signaling in mediating schizophrenia susceptibility.
This study supports the use of relevant endophenotypes and the bootstrap Total Significance Test for the identification of genetic variation underlying the etiology of schizophrenia. In addition, the observation of extensive pleiotropy for some genes and singular associations for others in our data suggests alternative, independent pathways mediating pathogenesis in the “group of schizophrenias”.
PMCID: PMC3751972  PMID: 21498463
8.  Inhibition of the P50 Cerebral Evoked Response to Repeated Auditory Stimuli: Results from the Consortium on Genetics of Schizophrenia 
Schizophrenia research  2010;119(0):175-182.
Inhibition of the P50 evoked electroencephalographic response to the second of paired auditory stimuli has been frequently examined as a neurophysiological deficit in schizophrenia. The National Institute of Mental Health Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia (COGS) examined this endophenotype in a 7 center multi-site study. Recordings were analyzed from 181 probands with schizophrenia, 429 of their first degree relatives, and 333 community comparison control subjects. Most probands were being treated with second generation neuroleptic medications. Highly significant differences in P50 inhibition, measured as either the ratio of amplitudes or their difference in response to the two stimuli, were found between the probands and the community comparison sample. There were no differences between the COGS sites for these findings. For the ratio parameter, an admixture analysis indicated that nearly 40% of the relatives demonstrated deficiencies in P50 inhibition that are comparable to the deficit found in the probands. These results indicate that P50 auditory evoked potentials can be recorded across multiple sites and reliably demonstrate a physiological abnormality in schizophrenia. The appearance of the physiological abnormality in a substantial proportion of clinically unaffected first degree relatives is consistent with the hypothesis that deficits in cerebral inhibition may be a familial neurobiological risk factor for the illness.
PMCID: PMC3688282  PMID: 20382002
Schizophrenia; Evoked potentials auditory; Inhibition; Genetics
9.  Pergolide Treatment of Cognitive Deficits Associated with Schizotypal Personality Disorder: Continued Evidence of the Importance of the Dopamine System in the Schizophrenia Spectrum 
Neuropsychopharmacology  2010;35(6):1356-1362.
Cognitive deficits observed in schizophrenia are also frequently found in individuals with other schizophrenia spectrum disorders, such as schizotypal personality disorder (SPD). Dopamine appears to be a particularly important modulator of cognitive processes such as those impaired in schizophrenia spectrum disorders. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, we administered pergolide, a dopamine agonist targeting D1 and D2 receptors, to 25 participants with SPD and assessed the effect of pergolide treatment, as compared with placebo, on neuropsychological performance. We found that the pergolide group showed improvements in visual-spatial working memory, executive functioning, and verbal learning and memory. These results suggest that dopamine agonists may provide benefit for the cognitive abnormalities of schizophrenia spectrum disorders.
PMCID: PMC3055340  PMID: 20130535
schizotypal personality; schizotypy; schizophrenia spectrum; cognition; pergolide; dopamine; Schizophrenia/Antipsychotics; Dopamine; Cognition; Clinical Pharmacology/Trials; schizotypal personality; pergolide
10.  Abnormal Auditory N100 Amplitude: A Heritable Endophenotype in First-Degree Relatives of Schizophrenia Probands 
Biological psychiatry  2008;64(12):1051-1059.
N100 evoked potential amplitude and gating abnormalities have been widely observed in schizophrenia patients. However, previous studies have been inconclusive as to whether similar deficits are present in unaffected family members. The Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia (COGS) is a multi-site NIMH initiative examining neurocognitive and neurophysiological measures as endophenotypes for genetic studies of schizophrenia. We report initial results, from the COGS dataset, of auditory N100 amplitude and gating as candidate endophenotypes.
Evoked potential data were acquired from 142 schizophrenia probands, 373 unaffected 1st-degree relatives and 221 community comparison subjects (CCS), using an auditory paired-click stimulation paradigm. Amplitude of the N100 response to each click and the click2/click1 ratio were dependent variables. Heritability was estimated based on kinships, using Solar v.2.1.2. Group differences were examined after subjects were categorized as either “broad” or “narrow”, based on the presence (“broad”) or absence (“narrow”) of non-psychotic psychiatric co-morbidity.
Heritability estimates were .40 and .29 for click1 and click2 amplitudes and .22 for the ratio. “Broad” and “narrow” patients both had impaired click1 amplitudes. “Broad” relatives, but not “narrow” relatives, exhibited similar impairments. There were no group differences for either click2 amplitude or the gating ratio.
N100 amplitude is a heritable measure that is abnormal in patients and a subset of relatives for whom psychiatric co-morbidity may be a genetically associated phenotype. Auditory N100 gating, although heritable, is less viable as a schizophrenia endophenotype.
PMCID: PMC2653714  PMID: 18701089
schizophrenia; endophenotype; heritability; evoked potential; N100; gating
11.  Verbal Working Memory Impairments in Individuals with Schizophrenia and Their First-Degree Relatives: Findings From the Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia 
Schizophrenia research  2008;103(1-3):218-228.
Working memory (WM) impairment is a promising candidate endophenotype for schizophrenia that could facilitate the identification of susceptibility genes for this disorder. The validity of this putative endophenotype was assessed by determining whether 149 probands with schizophrenia and 337 of their first-degree relatives demonstrated WM impairment as compared to 190 unaffected community comparison subjects. Subjects were participants in the Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia (COGS) project, a seven-site research network that was established to investigate the genetic architecture of endophenotypes for schizophrenia. Participants received comprehensive clinical assessments and completed two verbal WM tasks, one requiring transient on-line storage and another requiring maintenance plus complex manipulation of information by reordering the stimuli. Schizophrenia probands performed worse than the other groups on both tasks, with larger deficits found for the more challenging reordering WM task. The probands’ relatives performed more poorly than community comparison subjects on both tasks, but the difference was significant only for the more challenging maintenance plus complex manipulation WM task. This WM impairment was not attributable to diagnoses of schizophrenia spectrum disorder, mood disorders, or substance use disorders in the relatives. In conjunction with evidence that WM abilities are substantially heritable, the current results support the validity and usefulness of verbal WM impairments in manipulation of information as endophenotypes for schizophrenia in large-scale genetic linkage and association studies.
PMCID: PMC2529172  PMID: 18406578
12.  The Consortium on the Genetics of Endophenotypes in Schizophrenia: Model Recruitment, Assessment, and Endophenotyping Methods for a Multisite Collaboration 
Schizophrenia Bulletin  2006;33(1):33-48.
Background: The Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia (COGS) is an ongoing, National Institute of Mental Health–funded, 7-site collaboration investigating the occurrence and genetic architecture of quantitative endophenotypes related to schizophrenia. The purpose of this article is to provide a description of the COGS structure and methods, including participant recruitment and assessment. Methods: The hypothesis-driven recruitment strategy ascertains families that include a proband with a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition diagnosis of schizophrenia, and at least one unaffected full sibling available for genotyping and endophenotyping, along with parents available for genotyping and (optional depending on age) endophenotyping. The family structure is selected to provide contrast in quantitative endophenotypic traits and thus to maximize the power of the planned genetic analyses. Probands are recruited from many sources including clinician referrals, local National Alliance for the Mentally Ill chapters, and advertising via the media. All participants undergo a standardized protocol that includes clinical characterization, a blood draw for genotyping, and endophenotype assessments (P50 suppression, prepulse inhibition, antisaccade performance, continuous performance tasks, letter-number span, verbal memory, and a computerized neurocognitive battery). Investigators participate in weekly teleconferences to coordinate and evaluate recruitment, clinical assessment, endophenotyping, and continuous quality control of data gathering and analyses. Data integrity is maintained through use of a highly quality-assured, centralized web-based database. Results: As of February 2006, 355 families have been enrolled and 688 participants have been endophenotyped, including schizophrenia probands (n = 154, M:F = 110:44), first-degree biological relatives (n = 343, M:F = 151:192), and community comparison subjects (n = 191, M:F = 81:110). Discussion: Successful multisite genetics collaborations must institute standardized methodological criteria for assessment and recruitment that are clearly defined, well communicated, and uniformly applied. In parallel, studies utilizing endophenotypes require strict adherence to criteria for cross-site data acquisition, equipment calibration and testing and software equivalence, and continuous quality assurance for many measures obtained across sites. This report describes methods and presents the structure of the COGS as a model of multisite endophenotype genetic studies. It also provides demographic information after the first 2 years of data collection on a sample for whom the behavioral data and genetics of endophenotype performance will be fully characterized in future articles. Some issues discussed in the reviews that follow reflect the challenges of evaluating endophenotypes in studies of the genetic architecture of endophenotypes in schizophrenia.
PMCID: PMC2632302  PMID: 17035358
neurophysiology; neurocognitive; genes
14.  Schizotypal Personality Disorder: A Current Review 
Current psychiatry reports  2014;16(7):452.
The study of schizotypal personality disorder (SPD) is important clinically, as it is understudied, challenging to treat, often under-recognized or misdiagnosed, and associated with significant functional impairment. SPD also represents an intermediate schizophrenia-spectrum phenotype, and therefore, can provide a better understanding of the genetics, pathogenesis, and treatment of related psychotic illnesses. In this review we discuss recent findings of SPD related to epidemiology and functional impairment; heritability and genetics; working memory and cognitive impairments; social-affective disturbances; and neurobiology. Additionally, we examine the challenges associated with treating patients with SPD, as well as clinical recommendations. Finally, we address future directions and areas in need of further exploration.
PMCID: PMC4182925  PMID: 24828284
Schizotypal; schizophrenia; personality disorder; frontal lobe; temporal lobe; dopamine; working memory; cognition; social cognition; affect processing; magical thinking; perceptual aberration; suspiciousness; paranoia; social anhedonia
16.  White Matter Abnormalities in Schizophrenia and Schizotypal Personality Disorder 
Schizophrenia Bulletin  2014;41(1):300-310.
Prior diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) studies examining schizotypal personality disorder (SPD) and schizophrenia, separately have shown that compared with healthy controls (HCs), patients show frontotemporal white matter (WM) abnormalities. This is the first DTI study to directly compare WM tract coherence with tractography and fractional anisotropy (FA) across the schizophrenia spectrum in a large sample of demographically matched HCs (n = 55), medication-naive SPD patients (n = 49), and unmedicated/never-medicated schizophrenia patients (n = 22) to determine whether (a) frontal-striatal-temporal WM tract abnormalities in schizophrenia are similar to, or distinct from those observed in SPD; and (b) WM tract abnormalities are associated with clinical symptom severity indicating a common underlying pathology across the spectrum. Compared with both the HC and SPD groups, schizophrenia patients showed WM abnormalities, as indexed by lower FA in the temporal lobe (inferior longitudinal fasciculus) and cingulum regions. SPD patients showed lower FA in the corpus callosum genu compared with the HC group, but this regional abnormality was more widespread in schizophrenia patients. Across the schizophrenia spectrum, greater WM disruptions were associated with greater symptom severity. Overall, frontal-striatal-temporal WM dysconnectivity is attenuated in SPD compared with schizophrenia patients and may mitigate the emergence of psychosis.
PMCID: PMC4266294  PMID: 24962608
DTI; MRI; schizotypal personality disorder; schizophrenia; psychosis; white matter; genu; cingulum; inferior longitudinal fasciculus
17.  Effects of the D1 Dopamine Receptor Agonist Dihydrexidine (DAR-0100A) on Working Memory in Schizotypal Personality Disorder 
Neuropsychopharmacology  2014;40(2):446-453.
Pharmacological enhancement of prefrontal D1 dopamine receptor function remains a promising therapeutic approach to ameliorate schizophrenia-spectrum working memory deficits, but has yet to be rigorously evaluated clinically. This proof-of-principle study sought to determine whether the active enantiomer of the selective and full D1 receptor agonist dihydrexidine (DAR-0100A) could attenuate working memory impairments in unmedicated patients with schizotypal personality disorder (SPD). We performed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of DAR-0100A (15 mg/150 ml of normal saline administered intravenously over 30 min) in medication-free patients with SPD (n=16) who met the criteria for cognitive impairment (ie, scoring below the 25th percentile on tests of working memory). We employed two measures of verbal working memory that are salient to schizophrenia-spectrum cognitive deficits, and that clinical data implicate as being associated with prefrontal D1 availability: (1) the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test (PASAT); and (2) the N-back test (ratio of 2-back:0-back scores). Study procedures occurred over four consecutive days, with working memory testing on Days 1 and 4, and DAR-0100A/placebo administration on Days 2–4. Treatment with DAR-0100A was associated with significantly improved PASAT performance relative to placebo, with a very large effect size (Cohen's d=1.14). Performance on the N-back ratio was also significantly improved; however, this effect rested on both a non-significant enhancement and diminution of 2-back and 0-back performance, respectively; therefore interpretation of this finding is more complicated. DAR-0100A was generally well tolerated, with no serious medical or psychiatric adverse events; common side effects were mild to moderate and transient, consisting mainly of sedation, lightheadedness, tachycardia, and hypotension; however, we were able to minimize these effects, without altering the dose, with supportive measures, eg, co-administered normal saline. Although preliminary, these findings lend further clinical support to the potential of D1 receptor agonists to treat schizophrenia-spectrum working memory impairments. These data suggest a need for further studies with larger group sizes, serum DAR-0100A levels, and a more comprehensive neuropsychological battery.
PMCID: PMC4443959  PMID: 25074637
18.  Insula–amygdala functional connectivity is correlated with habituation to repeated negative images 
Behavioral habituation during repeated exposure to aversive stimuli is an adaptive process. However, the way in which changes in self-reported emotional experience are related to the neural mechanisms supporting habituation remains unclear. We probed these mechanisms by repeatedly presenting negative images to healthy adult participants and recording behavioral and neural responses using functional magnetic resonance imaging. We were particularly interested in investigating patterns of activity in insula, given its significant role in affective integration, and in amygdala, given its association with appraisal of aversive stimuli and its frequent coactivation with insula. We found significant habituation behaviorally along with decreases in amygdala, occipital cortex and ventral prefrontal cortex (PFC) activity with repeated presentation, whereas bilateral posterior insula, dorsolateral PFC and precuneus showed increased activation. Posterior insula activation during image presentation was correlated with greater negative affect ratings for novel presentations of negative images. Further, repeated negative image presentation was associated with increased functional connectivity between left posterior insula and amygdala, and increasing insula–amygdala functional connectivity was correlated with increasing behavioral habituation. These results suggest that habituation is subserved in part by insula–amygdala connectivity and involves a change in the activity of bottom-up affective networks.
PMCID: PMC4221205  PMID: 24170933
habituation; emotion; functional connectivity; insula; amygdala
19.  Prefrontal Dopamine D1 Receptors and Working Memory in Schizotypal Personality Disorder: A PET Study with [11C]NNC112 
Psychopharmacology  2014;231(21):4231-4240.
Schizotypal personality disorder (SPD) is associated with working memory (WM) impairments that are similar to those observed in schizophrenia. Imaging studies have suggested that schizophrenia is associated with alterations in dopamine D1-receptor availability in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) that may be related to the WM impairments that characterize this disorder.
To characterize prefrontal D1-receptor availability and its relation to WM performance in SPD.
We used positron emission tomography (PET) and the radiotracer [11C]NNC112 with 18 unmedicated SPD and 21 healthy-control participants; as an index of D1-receptor availability, binding-potential (BP) measures (BPF, BPND, and BPP) were calculated for prefrontal and striatal subregions. To assess WM, SPD participants completed the 2-back and Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test (PASAT).
There were no significant group differences in PFC BP. BPF and BPP in the medial PFC were significantly negatively related to PASAT performance (rs=-0.551, p=.022 and rs=-0.488, p=.047, respectively), but BP was not related to 2-back performance.
In contrast to what has been found in schizophrenia, SPD was not associated with significant prefrontal D1-receptor alterations. Similar to previous schizophrenia findings, however, higher prefrontal D1-receptor availability was associated with poorer WM performance (as measured by the PASAT) in SPD. These findings suggest that schizophrenia and SPD may share a common pathophysiological feature related to prefrontal dopamine functioning that contributes to WM dysfunction, but that in SPD, alterations in D1 may occur only in a subset of individuals and/or to an extent that is minor relative to what occurs in schizophrenia.
PMCID: PMC4194223  PMID: 24781514
schizotypal personality disorder; schizophrenia; PET; dopamine; prefrontal cortex; working memory
20.  A unique gene expression signature associated with serotonin 2C receptor RNA editing in the prefrontal cortex and altered in suicide 
Human Molecular Genetics  2014;23(18):4801-4813.
Editing of the pre-mRNA for the serotonin receptor 2C (5-HT2CR) by site-specific adenosine deamination (A-to-I pre-mRNA editing) substantially increases the functional plasticity of this key neurotransmitter receptor and is thought to contribute to homeostatic mechanisms in neurons. 5-HT2CR mRNA editing generates up to 24 different receptor isoforms. The extent of editing correlates with 5-HT2CR functional activity: more highly edited isoforms exhibit the least function. Altered 5-HT2CR editing has been reported in postmortem brains of suicide victims. We report a comparative analysis of the connections among 5-HT2CR editing, genome-wide gene expression and DNA methylation in suicide victims, individuals with major depressive disorder and non-psychiatric controls. The results confirm previous findings of an overrepresentation of highly edited mRNA variants (which encode hypoactive 5-HT2CR receptors) in the brains of suicide victims. A large set of genes for which the expression level is associated with editing was detected. This signature set of editing-associated genes is significantly enriched for genes that are involved in synaptic transmission, genes that are preferentially expressed in neurons, and genes whose expression is correlated with the level of DNA methylation. Notably, we report that the link between 5-HT2CR editing and gene expression is disrupted in suicide victims. The results suggest that the postulated homeostatic function of 5-HT2CR editing is dysregulated in individuals who committed suicide.
PMCID: PMC4140462  PMID: 24781207
21.  Tryptophan Hydroxylase 2 haplotype association with borderline personality disorder and aggression in a sample of patients with personality disorders and healthy controls 
Journal of psychiatric research  2010;44(15):1075-1081.
There is decreased serotonergic function in impulsive aggression and borderline personality disorder (BPD), and genetic association studies suggest a role of serotonergic genes in impulsive aggression and BPD. Only one study has analyzed the association between the tryptophan-hydroxylase 2 (TPH2) gene and BPD. A TPH2 “risk” haplotype has been described that is associated with anxiety, depression and suicidal behavior.
We assessed the relationship between the previously identified “risk” haplotype at the TPH2 locus and BPD diagnosis, impulsive aggression, affective lability, and suicidal/parasuicidal behaviors, in a well-characterized clinical sample of 103 healthy controls (HCs) and 251 patients with personality disorders (109 with BPD). A logistic regression including measures of depression, affective lability and aggression scores in predicting “risk” haplotype was conducted.
The prevalence of the “risk” haplotype was significantly higher in patients with BPD compared to HCs. Those with the “risk” haplotype have higher aggression and affect lability scores and more suicidal/parasuicidal behaviors than those without it. In the logistic regression model, affect lability was the only significant predictor and it correctly classified 83.1% of the subjects as “risk” or “non-risk” haplotype carriers.
We found an association between the previously described TPH2 “risk” haplotype and BPD diagnosis, affective lability, suicidal/parasuicidal behavior, and aggression scores.
PMCID: PMC2955771  PMID: 20451217
Borderline personality disorder; TPH2; suicidal behavior; affective instability; impulsive aggression
Biological psychiatry  2010;67(12):1154-1162.
Impulsive physical aggression is a common and problematic feature of many personality disorders. The serotonergic system is known to be involved in the pathophysiology of aggression, and multiple lines of evidence have implicated the 5-HT2A receptor (5-HT2AR). We sought to examine the role of the 5-HT2AR in impulsive aggression specifically in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), given that our own studies and an extensive literature indicate that serotonergic disturbances in the OFC are linked to aggression. We have previously hypothesized that increased 5-HT2AR function in the OFC is a state phenomenon which promotes impulsive aggression.
5-HT2AR availability was measured with positron emission tomography and the selective 5-HT2AR antagonist radioligand [11C]MDL100907 in two groups of impulsively aggressive personality disordered patients --14 with current physical aggression, and 15 without current physical aggression --and 25 healthy controls. Clinical ratings of various symptom dimensions were also obtained.
Orbitofrontal 5-HT2AR availability was greater in patients with current physical aggression compared to patients without current physical aggression and healthy controls; no differences in OFC 5-HT2AR availability were observed between patients without current physical aggression and healthy controls. No significant differences in 5-HT2AR availability were observed in other brain regions examined. Among both groups of impulsively aggressive personality disordered patients combined, OFC 5-HT2AR availability was correlated, specifically, with a state measure of impulsive aggression.
These findings are consistent with our previously described model in which impulsive aggression is related to dynamic changes in 5-HT2AR function in the OFC.
PMCID: PMC3091264  PMID: 20434136
Aggression; Personality Disorder; Intermittent Explosive Disorder; Serotonin; Positron Emission Tomography; Orbitofrontal Cortex
24.  The Neural Correlates of Anomalous Habituation to Negative Emotional Pictures in Borderline and Avoidant Personality Disorder Patients 
Extreme emotional reactivity is a defining feature of borderline personality disorder, yet the neural-behavioral mechanisms underlying this affective instability are poorly understood. One possible contributor would be diminished ability to engage the mechanism of emotional habituation. We tested this hypothesis by examining behavioral and neural correlates of habituation in borderline patients, healthy controls, and a psychopathological control group of avoidant personality disorder patients.
During fMRI scan acquisition, borderline patients, healthy controls and avoidant personality disorder patients viewed novel and repeated pictures, providing valence ratings at each presentation. Statistical parametric maps of the contrasts of activation during repeat versus novel negative picture viewing were compared between groups. Psychophysiological interaction analysis was employed to examine functional connectivity differences between groups.
Unlike healthy controls, neither borderline nor avoidant personality disorder participants showed increased activity in dorsal anterior cingulate cortex when viewing repeat versus novel pictures. This failure to increase dorsal anterior cingulate activity was associated with greater affective instability in borderline participants. In addition, borderline and avoidant participants showed smaller insula-amygdala connectivity increases than healthy participants and did not show habituation in ratings of the emotional intensity of the images as did healthy participants. Borderline patients differed from avoidant patients in insula-ventral anterior cingulate connectivity during habituation.
Borderline patients fail to habituate to negative pictures as do healthy participants and differ from both healthy controls and avoidant patients in neural activity during habituation. A failure to effectively engage emotional habituation processes may contribute to affective instability in borderline patients.
PMCID: PMC3947284  PMID: 24275960
borderline personality disorder; avoidant personality disorder; affective instability; fMRI; functional connectivity
25.  Dialectical behavior therapy alters emotion regulation and amygdala activity in patients with borderline personality disorder 
Siever and Davis’ (1991) psychobiological framework of borderline personality disorder (BPD) identifies affective instability (AI) as a core dimension characterized by prolonged and intense emotional reactivity. Recently, deficient amygdala habituation, defined as a change in response to repeated relative to novel unpleasant pictures within a session, has emerged as a biological correlate of AI in BPD. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), an evidence-based treatment, targets AI by teaching emotion-regulation skills. This study tested the hypothesis that BPD patients would exhibit decreased amygdala activation and improved habituation, as well as improved emotion regulation with standard 12-month DBT.
Event-related fMRI was obtained pre- and post-12-months of standard-DBT in unmedicated BPD patients. Healthy controls (HCs) were studied as a benchmark for normal amygdala activity and change over time (n = 11 per diagnostic-group). During each scan, participants viewed an intermixed series of unpleasant, neutral and pleasant pictures presented twice (novel, repeat). Change in emotion regulation was measured with the Difficulty in Emotion Regulation (DERS) scale.
fMRI results showed the predicted Group × Time interaction: compared with HCs, BPD patients exhibited decreased amygdala activation with treatment. This post-treatment amygdala reduction in BPD was observed for all three pictures types, but particularly marked in the left hemisphere and during repeated-emotional pictures. Emotion regulation measured with the DERS significantly improved with DBT in BPD patients. Improved amygdala habituation to repeated-unpleasant pictures in patients was associated with improved overall emotional regulation measured by the DERS (total score and emotion regulation strategy use subscale).
These findings have promising treatment implications and support the notion that DBT targets amygdala hyperactivity—part of the disturbed neural circuitry underlying emotional dysregulation in BPD. Future work includes examining how DBT-induced amygdala changes interact with frontal-lobe regions implicated in emotion regulation.
PMCID: PMC4263347  PMID: 25038629
Borderline personality disorder; Emotion regulation; Amygdala; Habituation; fMRI

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