Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 April 2009
There is increasing evidence that the frequently reported working memory impairments in schizophrenia might be partly due to an alteration in the functional connectivity between task-relevant areas. However, little is known about the functional connectivity patterns in schizophrenia patients during learning processes. In a previous study, Koch et al. [Neuroscience (2007) 146, 1474–1483] have demonstrated stronger exponential activation decreases in schizophrenia patients during overlearning of short-term memory material. The question arises whether these differential temporal patterns of activation in schizophrenia patients and controls are going along with changes in task-related functional connectivity.
Therefore, in the current study, 13 patients with schizophrenia and 13 controls were studied while performing a short-term memory task associated with increasing overlearning of verbal stimulus material. Functional connectivity was investigated by analyses of psychophysiological interactions (PPI).
Results revealed significant task-related modulation of functional connectivity between the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and a network including the right DLPFC, left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, premotor cortex, right inferior parietal cortex, left and right cerebellum as well as the left occipital lobe in patients during the course of overlearning and practice. No significant PPI results were detectable in controls.
Activation changes with practice were associated with high functional connectivity between task-relevant areas in schizophrenia patients. This could be interpreted as a compensatory resource allocation and network integration in the context of cortical inefficiency and may be a specific neurophysiological signature underlying the pathophysiology of schizophrenia.