Background: Functional imaging studies using working memory tasks have documented both prefrontal cortex (PFC) hypo- and hyperactivation in schizophrenia. However, these studies have often failed to consider the potential role of task-related deactivation.
Method: Thirty-two patients with chronic schizophrenia and 32 age- and sex-matched normal controls underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning while performing baseline, 1-back and 2-back versions of the n-back task. Linear models were used to obtain maps of activations and deactivations in the groups.
Results: The controls showed activation in the expected frontal regions. There were also clusters of deactivation, particularly in the anterior cingulate/ventromedial PFC and the posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus. Compared to the controls, the schizophrenic patients showed reduced activation in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and other frontal areas. There was also an area in the anterior cingulate/ventromedial PFC where the patients showed apparently greater activation than the controls. This represented a failure of deactivation in the schizophrenic patients. Failure to activate was a function of the patients' impaired performance on the n-back task, whereas the failure to deactivate was less performance dependent.
Conclusions: Patients with schizophrenia show both failure to activate and failure to deactivate during performance of a working memory task. The area of failure of deactivation is in the anterior prefrontal/anterior cingulate cortex and corresponds to one of the two midline components of the 'default mode network' implicated in functions related to maintaining one's sense of self.