Identification of transdiagnostic psychiatric disorder subtypes using unsupervised learning
Nils R Winter,
Andreas J Forstner,
Markus M Nothen,
Stephanie H. Witt,
Till F.M. Andlauer
Posted 08 Feb 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.02.04.21251083
Posted 08 Feb 2021
Psychiatric disorders show heterogeneous clinical manifestations and disease trajectories, with current classification systems not accurately reflecting their molecular etiology. This heterogeneity impedes timely and targeted treatment. Our study aimed to identify diagnostically mixed psychiatric patient clusters that share clinical and genetic features and may profit from similar therapeutic interventions. We used unsupervised high-dimensional data clustering on deep clinical data to identify transdiagnostic groups in a discovery sample (N=1250) of healthy controls and patients diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and other psychiatric disorders. We observed five diagnostically mixed clusters and ordered them based on severity. The least impaired cluster 0, containing most healthy controls, was characterized by general well-being. Clusters 1-3 differed predominantly regarding levels of maltreatment, depression, daily functioning, and parental bonding. Cluster 4 contained most patients diagnosed with psychotic disorders and exhibited the highest severity in many dimensions, including medication load. MDD patients were present in all clusters, indicating that we captured different disease stages or subtypes. We replicated all but the smallest cluster 1 in an independent sample (N=622). Next, we analyzed genetic differences between clusters using polygenic scores (PGS) and the psychiatric family history. These genetic variables differed mainly between clusters 0 and 4 (prediction AUC=81%; significant PGS: cross-disorder psychiatric risk, schizophrenia, and educational attainment). Our results confirm that psychiatric disorders consist of heterogeneous subtypes sharing molecular factors and symptoms. The identification of transdiagnostic clusters advances our understanding of the heterogeneity of psychiatric disorders and may support the development of personalized treatment regimes.
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