On the relationship of first-episode psychosis to the amphetamine-sensitized state: a dopamine D 2/3 receptor agonist radioligand study

Transl Psychiatry. 2020 Jan 8;10(1):2. doi: 10.1038/s41398-019-0681-5.


Schizophrenia is characterized by increased behavioral and neurochemical responses to dopamine-releasing drugs. This prompted the hypothesis of psychosis as a state of "endogenous" sensitization of the dopamine system although the exact basis of dopaminergic disturbances and the possible role of prefrontal cortical regulation have remained uncertain. To show that patients with first-episode psychosis release more dopamine upon amphetamine-stimulation than healthy volunteers, and to reveal for the first time that prospective sensitization induced by repeated amphetamine exposure increases dopamine-release in stimulant-naïve healthy volunteers to levels observed in patients, we collected data on amphetamine-induced dopamine release using the dopamine D2/3 receptor agonist radioligand [11C]-(+)-PHNO and positron emission tomography. Healthy volunteers (n = 28, 14 female) underwent a baseline and then a post-amphetamine scan before and after a mildly sensitizing regimen of repeated oral amphetamine. Unmedicated patients with first-episode psychosis (n = 21; 6 female) underwent a single pair of baseline and then post-amphetamine scans. Furthermore, T1 weighted magnetic resonance imaging of the prefrontal cortex was performed. Patients with first-episode psychosis showed larger release of dopamine compared to healthy volunteers. After sensitization of healthy volunteers their dopamine release was significantly amplified and no longer different from that seen in patients. Healthy volunteers showed a negative correlation between prefrontal cortical volume and dopamine release. There was no such relationship after sensitization or in patients. Our data in patients with untreated first-episode psychosis confirm the "endogenous sensitization" hypothesis and support the notion of impaired prefrontal control of the dopamine system in schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amphetamine / pharmacology
  • Dopamine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychotic Disorders* / diagnostic imaging


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Amphetamine
  • Dopamine