Previous studies have reported facial emotion recognition impairments in schizophrenic patients, as well as abnormalities in the N170 component of the event-related potential. Current research on schizophrenia highlights the importance of complexly-inherited brain-based deficits. In order to examine the N170 markers of face structural and emotional processing, DSM-IV diagnosed schizophrenia probands (n=13), unaffected first-degree relatives from multiplex families (n=13), and control subjects (n=13) matched by age, gender and educational level, performed a categorization task which involved words and faces with positive and negative valence. The N170 component, while present in relatives and control subjects, was reduced in patients, not only for faces, but also for face-word differences, suggesting a deficit in structural processing of stimuli. Control subjects showed N170 modulation according to the valence of facial stimuli. However, this discrimination effect was found to be reduced both in patients and relatives. This is the first report showing N170 valence deficits in relatives. Our results suggest a generalized deficit affecting the structural encoding of faces in patients, as well as the emotion discrimination both in patients and relatives. Finally, these findings lend support to the notion that cortical markers of facial discrimination can be validly considered as vulnerability markers.
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