N-acetylcysteine add-on treatment leads to an improvement of fornix white matter integrity in early psychosis: a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial

Paul Klauser, Lijing Xin, Margot Fournier, Alessandra Griffa, Martine Cleusix, Raoul Jenni, Michel Cuenod, Rolf Gruetter, Patric Hagmann, Philippe Conus, Philipp S. Baumann, Kim Q. Do

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Mechanism-based treatments for schizophrenia are needed, and increasing evidence suggests that oxidative stress may be a target. Previous research has shown that N-acetylcysteine (NAC), an antioxidant and glutathione (GSH) precursor almost devoid of side effects, improved negative symptoms, decreased the side effects of antipsychotics, and improved mismatch negativity and local neural synchronization in chronic schizophrenia. In a recent double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial by Conus et al., early psychosis patients received NAC add-on therapy (2700 mg/day) for 6 months. Compared with placebo-treated controls, NAC patients showed significant improvements in neurocognition (processing speed) and a reduction of positive symptoms among patients with high peripheral oxidative status. NAC also led to a 23% increase in GSH levels in the medial prefrontal cortex (GSHmPFC) as measured by 1H magnetic resonance spectroscopy. A subgroup of the patients in this study were also scanned with multimodal MR imaging (spectroscopy, diffusion, and structural) at baseline (prior to NAC/placebo) and after 6 months of add-on treatment. Based on prior translational research, we hypothesized that NAC would protect white matter integrity in the fornix. A group × time interaction indicated a difference in the 6-month evolution of white matter integrity (as measured by generalized fractional anisotropy, gFA) in favor of the NAC group, which showed an 11% increase. The increase in gFA correlated with an increase in GSHmPFC over the same 6-month period. In this secondary study, we suggest that NAC add-on treatment may be a safe and effective way to protect white matter integrity in early psychosis patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number220
Number of pages8
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes

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