Objective: Neurocognitive dysfunctions analogous to those of adult patients have been detected in children at risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. This led to the following developmental question: Do IQ and memory impairments exhibit different developmental courses from childhood to young adulthood in terms of stability or fluctuations?
Methods: In a high risk sample, we used a step by step sampling approach to narrow-down the early disease mechanisms. Upstream, we started with a 20-year follow-up of 48 densely affected multigenerational kindreds, including 1500 clinically characterized adult members. We then identified 400 adult members affected by a DSM-IV schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Downstream, we finally focused on 65 offspring (of an affected parent) aged 7 to 22, who were administered a neuropsychological battery. We then constructed cross-sectional trajectories that were compared to those of controls.
Results: The childhood IQ deficit displayed a stability until young adulthood. The delay in visual memory exhibited a non-linear two-stage trajectory: a lagging period during childhood followed by a recuperation period from adolescence until adulthood, as supported by a significant Group x Age Periods interaction. No data suggested deterioration between 7 and 22.
Conclusion: In these offspring at genetic risk, the developmental trajectory of global IQ impairment may not apply to specific domains of cognition such as episodic memory. Different cognitive dysfunctions would mark different developmental courses. The shape of the trajectories might itself have a meaning and provide empirical leads for targeting the right dysfunction at the right time in future prevention research.