Persistence of psychosis spectrum symptoms in the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort: a prospective two-year follow-up

World Psychiatry. 2017 Feb;16(1):62-76. doi: 10.1002/wps.20386.


Prospective evaluation of youths with early psychotic-like experiences can enrich our knowledge of clinical, biobehavioral and environmental risk and protective factors associated with the development of psychotic disorders. We aimed to investigate the predictors of persistence or worsening of psychosis spectrum features among US youth through the first large systematic study to evaluate subclinical symptoms in the community. Based on Time 1 screen of 9,498 youth (age 8-21) from the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort, a subsample of participants was enrolled based on the presence (N=249) or absence (N=254) of baseline psychosis spectrum symptoms, prior participation in neuroimaging, and current neuroimaging eligibility. They were invited to participate in a Time 2 assessment two years on average following Time 1. Participants were administered the Structured Interview for Prodromal Syndromes, conducted blind to initial screen status, along with the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire and other clinical measures, computerized neurocognitive testing, and neuroimaging. Clinical and demographic predictors of symptom persistence were examined using logistic regression. At Time 2, psychosis spectrum features persisted or worsened in 51.4% of youths. Symptom persistence was predicted by higher severity of subclinical psychosis, lower global functioning, and prior psychiatric medication at baseline. Youths classified as having psychosis spectrum symptoms at baseline but not at follow-up nonetheless exhibited comparatively higher symptom levels and lower functioning at both baseline and follow-up than typically developing youths. In addition, psychosis spectrum features emerged in a small number of young people who previously had not reported significant symptoms but who had exhibited early clinical warning signs. Together, our findings indicate that varying courses of psychosis spectrum symptoms are evident early in US youth, supporting the importance of investigating psychosis risk as a dynamic developmental process. Neurocognition, brain structure and function, and genomics may be integrated with clinical data to provide early indices of symptom persistence and worsening in youths at risk for psychosis.

Keywords: Psychosis spectrum symptoms; follow-up; persistence; predictors; psychotic-like experiences; schizotypy; youth.