Thirty percent of patients with schizophrenia do not respond to non-clozapine antipsychotics and are termed treatment-resistant schizophrenia (TRS). The 40-Hz auditory steady-state response (ASSR) is a well-known to be reduced in patients with schizophrenia compared to healthy controls (HCs), suggesting impaired gamma oscillation in schizophrenia. Given no ASSR study on TRS, we aimed to examine the neurophysiological basis of TRS employing 40-Hz ASSR paradigm.
We compared ASSR measures among HCs, patients with non-TRS, and patients with TRS. TRS criteria were defined by a score of 4 or higher on two items of the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) positive symptoms despite standard antipsychotic treatment. Participants were examined for ASSR with 40-Hz click-train stimulus, and then time-frequency analysis was performed to calculate evoked power and phase-locking factor (PLF) of 40-Hz ASSR.
A total of 79 participants were included: 27 patients with TRS (PANSS = 92.6 ± 15.8); 27 patients with non-TRS (PANSS = 63.3 ± 14.7); and 25 HCs. Evoked power in 40-Hz ASSR was lower in the TRS group than in the HC group (F = 8.37, p = 0.015; TRS vs. HCs: p = 0.012, d = 1.1) while no differences in PLF were found between the groups.
These results suggest that glutamatergic and GABAergic neurophysiological dysfunctions are involved in the pathophysiology of TRS. Our findings warrant more comprehensive and longitudinal studies for deep phenotyping of TRS.

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