Background: Amongst schizophrenia patients, a large subgroup of up to 25% also suffers from comorbid obsessive-compulsive symptoms (OCSs). The association between comorbid OCSs in these patients and neuropsychological impairment remains unclear and somewhat contradictory. Longitudinal approaches investigating the stability of OCS-associated cognitive deficits are missing.
Methods: Thirty-seven patients with schizophrenia and comorbid OCSs and 43 schizophrenia patients without OCS were assessed with a comprehensive cognitive test battery and compared at baseline and, again, 12 months later.
Results: Schizophrenia patients with comorbid OCSs showed significant pronounced deficits, with increasing effect sizes over the 12-month assessment period in specific cognitive areas such as visuospatial perception and visual memory (WAIS-R block design, Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure Test), executive functioning (perseveration in the Wisconsin Card Sorting test), and cognitive flexibility (Trail Making test B). These cognitive domains are correlated with OCS severity and are known to be candidate cognitive domains in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Conclusions: OCSs in schizophrenia is associated with specific and longitudinally stable cognitive deficits, strongly arguing for at least partially overlapping neurobiological mechanisms with OCD. Prospective studies involving patients with at-risk mental states for psychosis are necessary to decipher the interaction of cognitive impairment and the clinical manifestations of schizophrenia and OCSs. This might facilitate the definition of patients at high risk for OCSs, an early detection of subclinical levels, therapeutic interventions, and clinical monitoring.
Keywords: cognitive deficits; comorbidity; neuropsychology; obsessive-compulsive symptoms; psychosis; schizophrenia.