Neural Correlates of Social Touch and Interoceptive Perception as Potential Biomarker for Impaired Social Functioning

  • End date
    Feb 5, 2024
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    University of Oldenburg
Updated on 5 October 2021
Accepts healthy volunteers


Recent studies have shown that certain biomarkers of schizophrenia could help to better assess the individual course of the disease and thus, contribute to more personalized treatment options. The aim of the SPIRIT study is to identify potential biomarkers for the prediction of disease-associated outcomes by investigating the neurobiological mechanisms of underlying schizophrenia-related dysfunctions.


Alterations in psychosocial functioning are evident from the prodromal phase of schizophrenia and play a crucial role in its chronic course. While recent studies have demonstrated the predictive validity of structural changes in the brain anatomy of patients with schizophrenia, there is a lack of studies assessing the predictive value of disease-associated alterations in the functional brain activity for symptom severity and psychosocial functioning in schizophrenia.

In this longitudinal, observational study, 60 patients with schizophrenia, 30 healthy first-degree relatives of persons with schizophrenia and 30 healthy subjects without family history of psychotic illness will be recruited to investigate differences in behavioural, physiological, and neural correlates of social touch and interoceptive perception between participant groups. Participants' symptom severity and psychosocial functioning level will be examined by a wide range of behavioural, physiological, and neural methods. Potential biomarkers will be identified by estimating the predictive value of initially performed methods on follow-up re-examination of clinical and psychosocial outcomes. Neural readouts include structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measurements. The fMRI tasks will probe the processing of social touch and interoceptive perception; additionally resting-state connectivity will be assessed. To further investigate pathological distortions of social touch and interoceptive perception, bodily touch allowance maps will be measured and participants will perform a heart-beat discrimination task. Psychometric questionnaires and semi-structured interviews will be used to capture symptom load and level of psychosocial functioning. Long-term effects will be assessed by online questionnaires and semi-structured interviews via phone call 3- and 6 months after initial assessments. The investigators hypothesize that differences in the neural response to social touch as well as in the neural patterns of interoceptive perception could serve as potential biomarkers for psychosocial deficits during the course of the illness. Furthermore, the inclusion of those biomarkers in predictive models could improve the prediction of disease progression and thus, contribute to personalized therapy.

Condition Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorders, Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorders (Pediatric), Schizophrenia, schizophrenia disorders
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT04968223
SponsorUniversity of Oldenburg
Last Modified on5 October 2021


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

Participant is able to provide consent
Diagnosis of diagnosis of schizophrenia according to DSM-V criteria
For relatives and control group: No psychiatric or neurological illness
Fluent in German

Exclusion Criteria

The participant does not fulfill requirements for MRI measurements according to safety guidelines
Acute suicidality
Current substance dependence
A history of head trauma or neurological illness
Clear my responses

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