Using dimensionality-reduction techniques to understand the organization of psychotic symptoms in persistent psychotic illness and first episode psychosis

Sci Rep. 2023 Mar 24;13(1):4841. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-31909-w.


Psychotic disorders are highly heterogeneous. Understanding relationships between symptoms will be relevant to their underlying pathophysiology. We apply dimensionality-reduction methods across two unique samples to characterize the patterns of symptom organization. We analyzed publicly-available data from 153 participants diagnosed with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder (fBIRN Data Repository and the Consortium for Neuropsychiatric Phenomics), as well as 636 first-episode psychosis (FEP) participants from the Prevention and Early Intervention Program for Psychosis (PEPP-Montreal). In all participants, the Scale for the Assessment of Positive Symptoms (SAPS) and Scale for the Assessment of Negative Symptoms (SANS) were collected. Multidimensional scaling (MDS) combined with cluster analysis was applied to SAPS and SANS scores across these two groups of participants. MDS revealed relationships between items of SAPS and SANS. Our application of cluster analysis to these results identified: 1 cluster of disorganization symptoms, 2 clusters of hallucinations/delusions, and 2 SANS clusters (asocial and apathy, speech and affect). Those reality distortion items which were furthest from auditory hallucinations had very weak to no relationship with hallucination severity. Despite being at an earlier stage of illness, symptoms in FEP presentations were similarly organized. While hallucinations and delusions commonly co-occur, we found that their specific themes and content sometimes travel together and sometimes do not. This has important implications, not only for treatment, but also for research-particularly efforts to understand the neurocomputational and pathophysiological mechanism underlying delusions and hallucinations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Delusions / diagnosis
  • Hallucinations / psychology
  • Humans
  • Psychotic Disorders* / psychology
  • Schizophrenia* / complications
  • Schizophrenia* / diagnosis