Objective: This study was performed in order to clarify the mechanisms which underlie the reduced signal-to-noise of event-related potentials in schizophrenic patients. Specifically, we wanted to find out, whether it is reduced activation and/or synchronization (phase-locking) in specific frequency bands of the ongoing EEG which is related to the decreased signal amplitude and signal-to-noise ratio in schizophrenics.
Methods: We investigated 41 unmedicated schizophrenics (10 of them drug-naïve) and compared them with healthy control subjects (n = 233) as well as unmedicated subjects with schizotypal personality (n = 21), who were considered to be high-risk subjects for schizophrenia, and unmedicated depressive patients (n = 71). We measured event-related activity during an acoustical choice reaction paradigm and calculated the signal-to-noise ratio, signal power and noise for a time interval of 50-200 ms after stimulus presentation. Signal-to-noise ratio was calculated from the power of the averaged trials (signal power) divided by the mean power of the single trials minus the power of the average (noise power). Also, we performed a frequency analysis of the pre- and poststimulus EEG based on a factor analytical approach. Group comparisons were performed with ANCOVA.
Results: As expected, a decreased signal-to-noise ratio of evoked activity was found in the schizophrenic and a non-significant trend in the schizotypal subjects and the depressive patients. We were able to show that the observed decrease is due to a reduced signal power and an increase of absolute noise power. Frequency analysis of the evoked activity revealed that normals, schizophrenics schizotypal subjects and depressive patients increased theta/delta activity between pre- and poststimulus interval to a similar extend. However, this theta/delta-augmentation does not correlate with signal power in schizophrenics. Also, normals and depressive subjects augment coherence between both temporal lobes during information processing, which is not found in schizophrenics and schizotypal subjects. In contrast, these two groups augment frontal lobe coherence, which goes along with an increase of noise.
Conclusions: Reduced stimulus-induced phase-locking and bitemporal coherence of cortically evoked activity but not a failure to activate the cortex may be responsible for the observed low signal-to-noise ratio during information processing in schizophrenics. Accordingly, schizophrenics increase noise after stimulus presentation instead of building up a signal. This is discussed in the framework of the theory of stochastic resonance.