The biological characteristics of schizophrenia are often studied by using functional imaging techniques. However, since volunteers with schizophrenia routinely fail to perform as accurately or as quickly as healthy volunteers, it is difficult to ascertain whether a particular deficit in blood flow to a brain region is due to behavior or to the underlying illness. In this report, investigators used an auditory recognition task to assess brain blood flow patterns and behavioral correlates of schizophrenic patient volunteers trained on the task.
Twelve healthy volunteers and 18 volunteers with schizophrenia were trained to make tone frequency recognitions. Accuracy and stimuli were matched between groups. Participants were required to press a button to indicate whether a briefly presented tone was the high-frequency (1500 Hz) reference tone or one of a lower frequency level (level chosen to elicit an 80% accuracy score). Subjects underwent bolus [(15)O]H(2)O blood flow positron emission tomography during inactive rest, a sensory motor control condition, and the decision task. Blood flow patterns were assessed between conditions and between groups.
As a group, the patients with schizophrenia (who performed as quickly and accurately as the comparison subjects) exhibited significantly less change in regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) to the anterior cingulate and supplementary motor cortices when switching from the sensory motor control to the decision condition. There were also marked between-group differences in correlations between rCBF and response time. Whereas the comparison subjects exhibited progressively greater blood flow to the frontal cortex in association with longer response times, the schizophrenic patients exhibited progressively lower blood flow in conjunction with extended response times.
The failure to appropriately enhance cingulate activity when engaged in a demanding task and the progressive, time-dependent decline in frontal blood flow suggest that patients with schizophrenia are unable to make optimal use of frontocingulate systems when maximally engaged in high-error tasks.
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