Background and objective: Contradictory and confusing reports on serum dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) levels in schizophrenia led us to compare the serum concentration of its precursor, pregnenolone (PREG), between medicated schizophrenia patients and healthy subjects. The neurosteroid levels were monitored for two months and the relationship of these neurosteroids with schizophrenic symptomatology, emotional distress, and anxiety was examined.
Method: We determined blood levels of PREG, and DHEA in 15 schizophrenia patients and 12 healthy controls at four time points: at the start of the study, after 2, 4 and 8 weeks. Analysis of covariance and canonical correlations across four time points were applied.
Results: Controlling for age, serum concentrations of PREG were lower, while the DHEA level and the molar ratio values of DHEA/PREG were higher in schizophrenia patients compared to healthy controls. Both levels of PREG and DHEA and their molar ratio did not change significantly during the study's period either among schizophrenia patients or healthy controls. The blood levels of PREG appear to be associated with trait-anxiety scores in the schizophrenia patients, while associations of clinical symptoms with two neurosteroids did not reach a significant level when the confounding effect of emotional distress, and anxiety scores was controlled.
Conclusion: Low serum pregnenolone concentrations in schizophrenia appear to be associated with trait-anxiety scores independent of symptoms. Further research into the role of pregnenolone in schizophrenia is warranted.