Investigating the link between drug-naive first episode psychoses (FEPs), weight gain abnormalities and brain structural damages: Relevance and implications for therapy

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Evidence suggests that obesity and overweight may be associated with severe brain structural abnormalities and poor cognitive and functional outcomes in the general population. Despite these observations and the high prevalence of weight gain abnormalities in patients with psychosis spectrum disorders (PSDs), no studies have investigated the impact that these metabolic disturbances may have on brain structures and development in the earliest stages of PSDs. In the present review we shed light on the association between weight gain and brain structural abnormalities that may affect the course of illness in drug-naïve FEPs. Given the lack of studies directly investigating this issue, we firstly identified and critically evaluated the literature assessing weight gain abnormalities and gray or white matter (GM, WM) volumes (either globally or in specific regions of interest) in otherwise healthy obese/overweight adolescents and young adults. We then compared the results of this systematic review with those of two recent meta-analysis investigating GM and WM abnormalities in drug-naïve FEPs. Weight gain in otherwise healthy subjects was consistently associated with frontal and temporal GM atrophy and with reduced integrity of WM in the corpus callosum. Of relevance, all these brain regions are affected in drug-naïve FEPs, and their integrity is associated with clinical, cognitive and functional outcomes. The underlying mechanisms that may explain the association between weight gain, adiposity, and brain damage in both healthy subjects and drug-naïve FEPs are widely discussed. On the basis of this knowledge, we tried: a) to deduce an integrative model for the development of obesity in psychosis spectrum disorders; b) to identify the key vulnerability factors underlying the association between weight gain and psychosis; c) to provide information on new potential targets of intervention.

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