Background: Schizophrenia research has gained a new focus on identification and further characterization of neurocognitive deficits in the search for behavioural endophenotypes of this disorder. The objective of this study was to explore differential cortical processing during executive control in schizophrenia as assessed with the attention network test (ANT).
Methods: Sixteen schizophrenic patients and sixteen healthy controls matched for gender, age, education, and nicotine consumption were tested with the ANT while recording 29-channel-electroencephalogram (EEG). Visual event-related potentials (ERP) N200 and P300 were topographically analyzed and cortical mapping using low resolution brain electromagnetic tomography (LORETA) was applied to localize neuroelectric generators of ERP.
Results: Behaviourally, significant differences between schizophrenic patients and controls were found only for the conflict condition (p<0.05) and for conflict adjusted by mean reaction time (p<0.01). Examining ERP of control subjects, N200 failed to show robust flanker congruency effects. P300 amplitude was reduced at Pz (p<0.05) and P300 latency was increased at Cz (p<0.005) for the conflict condition. Schizophrenic patients differed significantly in P300 latency at Cz during late conflict processing (p<0.005). Source analysis revealed a deficit in anterior cingulate cortex (p<0.05).
Conclusion: Our results are in line with previous reports about dysfunctional ACC activation in schizophrenia and argue in favour of a selective deficit of cortical conflict resolution. It is further proposed that dysfunctional ACC activation during executive processing may be a neurophysiologic endophenotype candidate of schizophrenia.