Objective: It has been suggested that in healthy persons higher-order cognitive processing engaged by incremental working memory load hierarchically employs more dorsal than ventral prefrontal resources in healthy individuals. Given that working memory performance is impaired in schizophrenia, especially at higher executive loads, the authors investigated how this prefrontal functional organization might be altered in disease, independent of performance deficits. Method: Using N-back working memory functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data, the authors studied 15 patients with schizophrenia and 26 healthy comparison subjects. Subgroups based on median performance accuracy at 2-back were analyzed; high performers included eight schizophrenia patients and 14 comparison subjects, and low performers included seven patients and 12 comparison subjects. Results: High-performing but not low-performing comparison subjects responded to incremental working memory executive load with disproportionately greater dorsal but not ventral prefrontal cortex activation, which also predicted performance accuracy. In the high- and low-performing patient groups, incremental working memory load caused a disproportionate increase in ventral but not dorsal prefrontal cortex activation relative to the respective comparison group, which also correlated with accuracy. Functional connectivity between the ventral prefrontal cortex and posterior parietal cortex was relatively greater in patients, whereas comparison subjects had greater functional connectivity between the dorsal prefrontal cortex and posterior parietal cortex. Conclusions: The hierarchical organization of the prefrontal cortex may be compromised in schizophrenia, resulting in loss of functional specialization and integration at the dorsal prefrontal cortex and in compensatory activation from the ventral prefrontal cortex, which may ultimately affect working memory and executive cognition.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health