Neural correlates of daily-life affective stress reactivity in early psychosis: A study combining functional MRI and experience sampling methodology

Thomas Vaessen*, Ulrich Reininghaus, Evelyne van Aubel, Annelie Beijer-Klippel, Henrietta Steinhart, Inez Myin-Germeys, James Waltz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Affective reactivity to daily stressors are increased in individuals in the early stages of psychosis. Studies in psychosis patients and healthy individuals at increased psychosis risk show altered neural reactivity to stress in limbic (i.e., hippocampus [HC] and amygdala), prelimbic (i.e., ventromedial prefrontal cortex [vmPFC] and ventral anterior cingulate cortex [vACC]), and salience areas (i.e., Anterior Insula [AI]). We investigated whether a similar pattern of neural reactivity is present in early psychosis individuals and if brain activity in these regions is associated with daily-life stress reactivity. Twenty-nine early psychosis individuals (11 at-risk mental state and 18 first-episode psychosis) completed the Montreal Imaging Stress Task in conjunction with functional MRI. The study was part of a large-scale randomized controlled trial on the efficacy of an acceptance and commitment therapy-based ecological momentary intervention for early psychosis. All participants also provided experience sampling methodology (ESM) data on momentary affect and stressful activities in their everyday environment. Multilevel regression models were used to estimate if daily-life stress reactivity was moderated by activity in (pre)limbic and salience areas. Task-induced stress was associated with increased activation of the right AI and decreased activation in the vmPFC, vACC, and HC. Task-induced changes in vmPFC and vACC activity were associated with affective stress reactivity, whereas changes in HC and amygdala activity were associated with higher overall stress ratings. These preliminary results suggest region-specific roles in affective and psychotic daily-life stress reactivity in early psychosis. The observed pattern suggests that chronic stress plays a role in neural stress reactivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-101
Number of pages9
JournalSchizophrenia Research
Early online date27 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


  • Affect
  • Early psychosis
  • Experience sampling method
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Stress reactivity
  • 2023 OA procedure


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