Identifying neural signatures mediating behavioral symptoms and psychosis onset: High-dimensional whole brain functional mediation analysis

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Along the pathway from behavioral symptoms to the development of psychotic disorders sits the multivariate mediating brain. The functional organization and structural topography of large-scale multivariate neural mediators among patients with brain disorders, however, are not well understood. Here, we design a high-dimensional brain-wide functional mediation framework to investigate brain regions that intermediate between baseline behavioral symptoms and future conversion to full psychosis among individuals at clinical high risk (CHR). Using resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data from 263 CHR subjects, we extract an α brain atlas and a β brain atlas: the former underlines brain areas associated with prodromal symptoms and the latter highlights brain areas associated with disease onset. In parallel, we identify and separate mediators that potentially positively and negatively mediate symptoms and psychosis, respectively, and quantify the effect of each neural mediator on disease development. Taken together, these results paint a brain-wide picture of neural markers that are potentially mediating behavioral symptoms and the development of psychotic disorders; additionally, they underscore a statistical framework that is useful to uncover large-scale intermediating variables in a regulatory biological system.