Background: Previous research suggests that schizophrenia may result from disruptions in a cortico-cerebellar-thalamic-cortical circuit (CCTCC) producing a mental incoordination or "cognitive dysmetria." To further evaluate the cerebellar contribution to this disrupted circuitry, medication-free patients with schizophrenia completed classical eyeblink conditioning, a cerebellar-mediated learning task.
Methods: For classical eyeblink conditioning, 70 trials with a tone conditioned stimulus (CS) and air puff unconditioned stimulus (US) were presented to 15 patients with schizophrenia and 15 healthy control subjects. Acquisition rate for the conditioned response (CR) and response timing were compared between the two groups.
Results: Patients with schizophrenia displayed facilitated conditioning compared to control subjects based on a greater number of CRs during the session and a faster acquisition of the learned response.
Conclusions: Facilitated conditioning suggests that an enhanced excitability in the cerebellum occurs as part of a disrupted CCTCC in schizophrenia. The enhanced cerebellar-mediated associative learning may be maladaptive in the context of normal cerebro-cerebellar interactions, leading to the characteristic motor and mental incoordination of the disorder. Classical eyeblink conditioning may provide a useful model system for studying cerebellar involvement in the pathogenesis and treatment of schizophrenia.