Background: The dopamine (DA) D2 receptors exist in 2 states: a high-affinity state (D2 high) that is linked to second messenger systems, responsible for functional effects, exhibits high affinity for agonists (e.g., DA), and a low-affinity state that is functionally inert exhibits lower affinity for agonists. The DA D3 receptor subtype exhibits high agonist affinity, whereas the existence of the multiple affinity states is controversial. Preclinical studies in animal models of psychosis have shown a selective increase of D2 high as the common factor in psychosis, and the D3 receptor has been suggested to be involved in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia.
Methods: We studied D2 high and D3 in people at clinical high risk (CHR) for schizophrenia and in antipsychotic-naive patients with schizophrenia using the novel positron emission tomography radiotracer, [11C]-(+)-PHNO. The binding potential nondisplaceable (BP(ND)) was examined in the regions of interest (ROI; caudate, putamen, ventral striatum, globus pallidus, substantia nigra and thalamus) using an ROI and a voxel-wise approach while participants performed a cognitive task.
Results: We recruited 12 CHR individuals and 13 antipsychotic-naive patients with schizophrenia-spectrum disorder, whom we compared with 12 age- and sex-matched healthy controls. The BP(ND) between patients and controls did not differ in any of the ROIs, consistent with the voxel-wise analysis. Correlations between the BP(ND) in D3-rich regions and psychopathology warrant further investigation.
Limitations: In the absence of resting-state (baseline) BP(ND) data, or following a depletion paradigm (i.e., α-methyl partyrosine), it is not possible to ascertain whether the lack of difference among the groups is owing to different levels of baseline DA or to release during the cognitive task.
Conclusion: To our knowledge, the present study represents the first effort to measure the D2 and D3 receptors under a cognitive challenge in individuals putative/prodromal for schizophrenia using [11C]-(+)-PHNO.