Background: Schizophrenia has been associated with limited abilities to interact effectively in social situations. Face perception and ability to recognise familiar faces are critical for social interaction. Patients with chronic schizophrenia are known to show impaired face recognition. Studying first-episode (FE) patients allows the exclusion of confounding effects of chronicity, medication and institutionalisation in this deficit.
Objective: To determine brain (dys)functions during a face encoding and recognition paradigm in FE schizophrenia.
Methods: Thirteen antipsychotic-naïve FE schizophrenia patients and 13 age- and sex-matched healthy controls underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging during a face encoding and recognition paradigm. Behavioural responses were recorded on line.
Results: Patients recognised significantly fewer of previously presented faces than the controls (p = 0.008). At the neural level, both groups activated a network of regions including the fusiform area, occipital, temporal and frontal regions. In brain activity, the two groups did not differ in any region during encoding or recognition conditions (p > 0.05, corrected or uncorrected).
Conclusions: Our findings show impaired face recognition without a significant alteration of related brain activity in FE schizophrenia patients. It is possible that neural changes become more strongly evident with progression of the illness, and manifest themselves as behavioural impairments during the early course.