BACKGROUND - Studies in nonhuman primates provide evidence that intact spatial working memory depends on the integrity of specific areas in the prefrontal cortex. Patients with schizophrenia have been shown to be impaired on spatial working memory tasks. Relatives of schizophrenic patients show a range of cognitive deficits in the absence of clinical symptoms (eg, thought disorder, eye tracking dysfunctions). We predicted that a significant proportion of relatives of schizophrenic patients would show deficits in working memory as measured by a delayed response task.
METHODS - In experiment 1, we tested 18 schizophrenic patients, 15 first-degree relatives of schizophrenic patients, and 18 normal control subjects on an oculomotor delayed response task. In experiment 2, we assessed the performance of another group of 12 first-degree relatives of schizophrenic patients and 16 different normal control subjects on a visual-manual delayed response task.
RESULTS - Relatives of schizophrenic patients showed significant deficits in working memory on both the oculomotor and visual-manual delayed response tasks.
CONCLUSIONS - Some relatives of schizophrenic patients are impaired on tasks that tap spatial working memory and that implicate the prefrontal system. The delayed response paradigm may be useful in elucidating the multidimensionality of the schizophrenic phenotype.