Abnormal autonomic nervous system (ANS) function may result in poor outcomes in patients with schizophrenia. Altered cardio-respiratory coupling, which indicates suppression of vagal activity, was identified as an important trait in patients with schizophrenia and their unaffected relatives. Heart rate variability (HRV) in standardized bedside reflex tests has been studied, mostly in medicated patients with schizophrenia whose ANS function could be influenced by medication. Our study aimed to explore the autonomic function differences between drug-naïve patients with schizophrenia and healthy individuals during challenge tests combining respiration and HRV analysis. Forty-two drug-naïve patients with schizophrenia were matched with 42 healthy controls in terms of age and gender. Their beat-to-beat blood pressure and heart rate were monitored in the supine position as a survey of ANS function, and the mean heart rate range (MHRR) was measured under deep-breathing challenge. A decreased MHRR, a sensitive sign indicating an impaired parasympathetic response, during the deep-breathing challenge among the drug-naïve patients with schizophrenia was found. Drug-naïve patients with schizophrenia may have a parasympathetic dysfunction in the early stages of schizophrenia before medication is introduced, which could be considered a neurobiological marker in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia.
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