Developmental processes in schizophrenic disorders: Longitudinal studies of vulnerability and stress

Keith H. Nuechterlein, Michael E. Dawson, Michael Gitlin, Joseph Ventura, Michael J. Goldstein, Karen S. Snyder, Cindy M. Yee, Jim Mintz

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374 Scopus citations


The Developmental Processes in Schizophrenic Disorders project is a longitudinal study of schizophrenic patients who have recently had a first episode of psychosis. The project focuses on discriminating characteristics of schizophrenic patients that are "stable vulnerability indicators," "mediating vulnerability factors," and "episode indicators" by comparing normal subjects to schizophrenic patients assessed in clinically remitted and psychotic states. A parallel project goal is to identify predictors of relapse, social and work impairment, and illness course among potential psychobiological vulnerability factors and environmental potentiating factors. Hypothesized vulnerability factors and potential environmental stressors are examined first under standardized maintenance antipsychotic medication conditions for at least 1 year. Patients showing stable remission of psychosis after 1 year of maintenance antipsychotic medication are invited to enter drug crossover and withdrawal protocols to determine the need for continuous antipsychotic medication. Vulnerability and stress factors are again assessed. A summary of results to date is presented. Deficits in early components of processing visual arrays and in sustained discrimination of successive ambiguous perceptual inputs are relatively stable across psychotic and clinically remitted states in the schizophrenic patients. Performance on a vigilance task demanding active, working memory also remains abnormal during clinical remission but covaries significantly with psychotic state and is a candidate for a mediating vulnerability factor. Autonomic activation level does not appear to be an enduring vulnerability factor, but it predicts the extent of short-term symptomatic recovery and may mediate the impact of stressors. Under conditions of standardized, injectable antipsychotic medication, independent stressful life events and highly critical attitudes toward the patient in the social environment predict relapse risk. Prospective data suggest that signs and symptoms prodromal to psychotic relapse may be present in about 60 percent of patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)387-425
Number of pages39
JournalSchizophrenia bulletin
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1992
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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