Enlarged pituitary gland volume: a possible state rather than trait marker of psychotic disorders

Psychol Med. 2024 Feb 15:1-9. doi: 10.1017/S003329172300380X. Online ahead of print.


Background: Enlarged pituitary gland volume could be a marker of psychotic disorders. However, previous studies report conflicting results. To better understand the role of the pituitary gland in psychosis, we examined a large transdiagnostic sample of individuals with psychotic disorders.

Methods: The study included 751 participants (174 with schizophrenia, 114 with schizoaffective disorder, 167 with psychotic bipolar disorder, and 296 healthy controls) across six sites in the Bipolar-Schizophrenia Network on Intermediate Phenotypes consortium. Structural magnetic resonance images were obtained, and pituitary gland volumes were measured using the MAGeT brain algorithm. Linear mixed models examined between-group differences with controls and among patient subgroups based on diagnosis, as well as how pituitary volumes were associated with symptom severity, cognitive function, antipsychotic dose, and illness duration.

Results: Mean pituitary gland volume did not significantly differ between patients and controls. No significant effect of diagnosis was observed. Larger pituitary gland volume was associated with greater symptom severity (F = 13.61, p = 0.0002), lower cognitive function (F = 4.76, p = 0.03), and higher antipsychotic dose (F = 5.20, p = 0.02). Illness duration was not significantly associated with pituitary gland volume. When all variables were considered, only symptom severity significantly predicted pituitary gland volume (F = 7.54, p = 0.006).

Conclusions: Although pituitary volumes were not increased in psychotic disorders, larger size may be a marker associated with more severe symptoms in the progression of psychosis. This finding helps clarify previous inconsistent reports and highlights the need for further research into pituitary gland-related factors in individuals with psychosis.

Keywords: bipolar; cognition; imaging; pituitary gland; psychosis; psychotic disorder; schizophrenia; symptom severity.