Impairment of Working Memory Maintenance and Response in Schizophrenia: Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Evidence

Naomi R. Driesen, Hoi Chung Leung, Vincent D. Calhoun, R. Todd Constable, Ralitza Gueorguieva, Ralph Hoffman, Pawel Skudlarski, Patricia S. Goldman-Rakic, John H. Krystal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Background: Comparing prefrontal cortical activity during particular phases of working memory in healthy subjects and individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia might help to define the phase-specific deficits in cortical function that contribute to cognitive impairments associated with schizophrenia. This study featured a spatial working memory task, similar to that used in nonhuman primates, that was designed to facilitate separating brain activation into encoding, maintenance, and response phases. Methods: Fourteen patients with schizophrenia (4 medication-free) and 12 healthy comparison participants completed functional magnetic resonance imaging while performing a spatial working memory task with two levels of memory load. Results: Task accuracy was similar in patients and healthy participants. However, patients showed reductions in brain activation during maintenance and response phases but not during the encoding phase. The reduced prefrontal activity during the maintenance phase of working memory was attributed to a greater rate of decay of prefrontal activity over time in patients. Cortical deficits in patients did not appear to be related to antipsychotic treatment. In patients and in healthy subjects, the time-dependent reduction in prefrontal activity during working memory maintenance correlated with poorer performance on the memory task. Conclusions: Overall, these data highlight that basic research insights into the distinct neurobiologies of the maintenance and response phases of working memory are of potential importance for understanding the neurobiology of cognitive impairment in schizophrenia and advancing its treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1026-1034
Number of pages9
JournalBiological psychiatry
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 15 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Event-related analysis
  • functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • prefrontal cortex
  • schizophrenia
  • timecourse analysis
  • working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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