Association of early life stress and cognitive performance in patients with schizophrenia and healthy controls

Schizophr Res Cogn. 2023 Feb 11:32:100280. doi: 10.1016/j.scog.2023.100280. eCollection 2023 Jun.


As core symptoms of schizophrenia, cognitive deficits contribute substantially to poor outcomes. Early life stress (ELS) can negatively affect cognition in patients with schizophrenia and healthy controls, but the exact nature of the mediating factors is unclear. Therefore, we investigated how ELS, education, and symptom burden are related to cognitive performance. The sample comprised 215 patients with schizophrenia (age, 42.9 ± 12.0 years; 66.0 % male) and 197 healthy controls (age, 38.5 ± 16.4 years; 39.3 % male) from the PsyCourse Study. ELS was assessed with the Childhood Trauma Screener (CTS). We used analyses of covariance and correlation analyses to investigate the association of total ELS load and ELS subtypes with cognitive performance. ELS was reported by 52.1 % of patients and 24.9 % of controls. Independent of ELS, cognitive performance on neuropsychological tests was lower in patients than controls (p < 0.001). ELS load was more closely associated with neurocognitive deficits (cognitive composite score) in controls (r = -0.305, p < 0.001) than in patients (r = -0.163, p = 0.033). Moreover, the higher the ELS load, the more cognitive deficits were found in controls (r = -0.200, p = 0.006), while in patients, this correlation was not significant after adjusting for PANSS. ELS load was more strongly associated with cognitive deficits in healthy controls than in patients. In patients, disease-related positive and negative symptoms may mask the effects of ELS-related cognitive deficits. ELS subtypes were associated with impairments in various cognitive domains. Cognitive deficits appear to be mediated through higher symptom burden and lower educational level.

Keywords: Cognitive dysfunction; Early life stress; Healthy controls; Schizophrenia.