Background. Previous work suggests that individuals with schizophrenia display an altered homovanillic acid (HVA) response to metabolic stress. The present study replicated and extended this paradigm, including individuals with elevated genetic risk for schizophrenia.
Method. Patients with psychosis (n=50), non-psychotic first-degree relatives of patients with psychosis (n=51) and controls without psychosis (n=50) underwent, in randomized order, double-blind administration of placebo and the glucose analogue 2-deoxy-D-glucose (2DG), which induces a mild, transient clinical state of glucoprivation. Plasma HVA and cortisol were assessed twice before the start of the 2DG/placebo infusion (baseline values), as well as four times post infusion. Data were analysed using multi-level random regression techniques.
Results. During the stress condition, significant increases in plasma HVA and cortisol were found. The increase in plasma HVA level during the stress condition was significantly stronger in patients than in controls, whereas this was not the case in relatives v. controls. The increase in plasma cortisol during the stress condition was significantly less in patients than controls, but no significant difference in the increase of plasma cortisol during stress was found in the comparison between relatives and controls.
Conclusions. Patients with psychosis, but not their non-psychotic first-degree relatives, show an altered neurobiological response to metabolic stress, suggesting that this dysregulation is not a genetically transmitted vulnerability, but an illness-related effect, possibly reflecting acquired sensitization of neuroendocrine systems by repeated environmental stressors or repeated stimulation with agonistic drugs.