Working memory and DLPFC inefficiency in schizophrenia: the FBIRN study

Schizophr Bull. 2009 Jan;35(1):19-31. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbn162. Epub 2008 Nov 27.


Background: The Functional Imaging Biomedical Informatics Network is a consortium developing methods for multisite functional imaging studies. Both prefrontal hyper- or hypoactivity in chronic schizophrenia have been found in previous studies of working memory.

Methods: In this functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of working memory, 128 subjects with chronic schizophrenia and 128 age- and gender-matched controls were recruited from 10 universities around the United States. Subjects performed the Sternberg Item Recognition Paradigm1,2 with memory loads of 1, 3, or 5 items. A region of interest analysis examined the mean BOLD signal change in an atlas-based demarcation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), in both groups, during both the encoding and retrieval phases of the experiment over the various memory loads.

Results: Subjects with schizophrenia performed slightly but significantly worse than the healthy volunteers and showed a greater decrease in accuracy and increase in reaction time with increasing memory load. The mean BOLD signal in the DLPFC was significantly greater in the schizophrenic group than the healthy group, particularly in the intermediate load condition. A secondary analysis matched subjects for mean accuracy and found the same BOLD signal hyperresponse in schizophrenics.

Conclusions: The increase in BOLD signal change from minimal to moderate memory loads was greater in the schizophrenic subjects than in controls. This effect remained when age, gender, run, hemisphere, and performance were considered, consistent with inefficient DLPFC function during working memory. These findings from a large multisite sample support the concept not of hyper- or hypofrontality in schizophrenia, but rather DLPFC inefficiency that may be manifested in either direction depending on task demands. This redirects the focus of research from direction of difference to neural mechanisms of inefficiency.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / diagnosis
  • Memory Disorders / etiology
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Schizophrenia / complications
  • Schizophrenia / diagnosis*
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Young Adult