Introduction: Gestures are important for nonverbal communication and were shown to be impaired in schizophrenia. Two categories of gestures can be differentiated: pantomime on verbal command and imitation of seen gestures. There is evidence that the neural basis of these domains may be distinct, pantomime being critically dependent on prefrontal cortex function. The aim of the study was to investigate gestural deficits in schizophrenia and their association with frontal lobe function and motor performance.
Methods: In 30 schizophrenia patients, gesture performance was assessed by the comprehensive Test of Upper Limb Apraxia (TULIA) using previously determined cut-off scores. The ratings of videotaped gesture performance were blinded. In addition, a battery of rating scales on frontal lobe function, parkinsonism, dyskinesia, catatonia and instrumental measures of gross and fine motor performance were assessed.
Results: Pantomime deficits were found in 40% and imitation deficits in 23% of the patients. Patients with gestural deficits had poorer frontal cortex function, more catatonic symptoms, and more severe psychopathology. Furthermore, trends indicated an association with a more chronic course of the illness. Pantomime was linked to frontal lobe function whereas imitation was associated with catatonic symptoms and gross motor performance.
Conclusions: Pantomime is frequently impaired in chronic schizophrenia and may critically depend on motor planning, reflecting a further example of brain disconnectivity in schizophrenia.
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