Apathy is an enduring and debilitating feature related to poor outcome in patients with first-episode psychosis (FEP). The biological underpinnings of apathy are unknown. We tested if FEP patients with persistent apathy (PA) differed from FEP patients without persistent apathy (NPA) in specific brain structure measures in the early phase of illness.
A total of 70 Norwegian FEP patients were recruited within 1 year of first adequate treatment. They were defined as having PA (N = 18) or NPA (N = 52) based on Apathy Evaluation Scale score at baseline and 1 year later. MRI measures of cortical thickness and subcortical structure volumes were compared between the PA and NPA groups.
The PA group had significantly thinner left orbitofrontal cortex and left anterior cingulate cortex. The results remained significant after controlling for depressive symptoms and antipsychotic medication.
FEP patients with persistent apathy in the early phase of their illness show brain structural changes compared to FEP patients without persistent apathy. The changes are confined to regions associated with motivation, occur early in the disease course and appear selectively in PA patients when both groups are compared to healthy controls.
Psychosis, First-episode, Apathy, Negative symptoms, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cortical thickness