Context: The imperative to establish so-called endophenotypes-quantifiable measures of risk for neurological dysfunction-is a growing focus of research in schizophrenia. Electrophysiological markers of sensory processing, observable in human event-related potentials, hold great promise in this regard, lying closer to underlying physiology than descriptive clinical diagnostic tests.
Objective: Early visual processing deficits, as measured by clear amplitude reductions in the occipital P1 component of the visual event-related potential, have been repeatedly demonstrated in patients with schizophrenia. However, before P1 amplitude may be considered as an endophenotypic marker for schizophrenia, it is necessary to establish its sensitivity to genetic liability.
Design, setting, and participants: Event-related potential responses to simple visual isolated-check stimuli were examined in 25 clinically unaffected first-degree relatives of patients with schizophrenia and 15 DSM-IV-diagnosed schizophrenia probands and compared with responses from 26 healthy, age-matched control subjects. Using high-density electrical scalp recordings, between-groups analysis assessed the integrity of the visual P1 component across the 3 groups. The study was conducted at St Vincent's Psychiatric Hospital in Fairview, Dublin, Ireland.
Results: Substantially reduced P1 amplitude was demonstrated in both relatives and probands compared with controls with topographical mapping and inverse source analysis localizing this deficit largely to midline regions in early visual sensory cortices and regions of the dorsal visual stream. Additional later differences between these groups, where the relatives actually show larger amplitude responses, may point toward compensatory mechanisms at play in relatives.
Conclusions: Our findings demonstrate a deficit in early visual processing in clinically unaffected first-degree relatives of patients with schizophrenia, providing evidence that this deficit may serve as a genetic marker for this disorder. The efficacy of using P1 amplitude as an endophenotype is underscored by the observation of a large effect size (d=0.9) over scalp sites where the deficit was maximal.