Biomarkers More Important Than Symptoms When it Comes to Schizophrenia

A set of biomarker categories, or biotypes, are better indicators of schizophrenia than traditional diagnoses, according to a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The results suggest that diagnostic categories or symptoms normally used to spot the disease may be outperformed by standards that have to do with genomics or physiological traits.

“The biotypes were more biologically homogeneous than categories based on observable symptoms,” said Dr. Bruce Cuthbert, acting director of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). “Just as fever or infection can have many different causes, multiple psychosis-causing disease processes - operating via different biological pathways - can lead to similar symptoms, confounding the search for better care.”

Brain structure, environment and family all play a role

The study included 1,872 patients - some were diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or bipolar disorder, and some of the subjects were first-degree relatives of these patients or healthy control subjects.

The researchers found various categories in which they were able to classify different biotypes. For example, results of performance-based tests in thinking and memory identified some sets of biomarkers, while brain structure also played a role in distinguishing biotypes. Biomarker patterns in patients' first-degree relatives also enabled the researchers to come up with specific categories.

Each different biotype category - researchers found three - could help researchers understand what different physiological, environmental, or structural brain changes cause schizophrenia.

“The biotypes outcome provides proof-of-concept that structural and functional brain biomarker measures can sort individuals with psychosis into groups that are neurobiologically distinctive and appear biologically meaningful,” the researchers said.

Source: National Institutes of Health

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