Transdiagnostic impairment of cognitive control in mental illness

J Psychiatr Res. 2016 Dec;83:37-46. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2016.08.001. Epub 2016 Aug 5.


Intact cognitive control or executive function has characteristic patterns in both behavior and functional neurocircuitry. Functional neuroimaging studies have shown that a frontal-cingulate-parietal-insular (i.e., "multiple demand") network forms a common functional substrate undergirding successful adaptation to diverse cognitive processing demands. Separate work on intact neurocognitive performance implicates a higher order factor that largely explains performance across domains and may reflect trait cognitive control capacity. In the current review we highlight findings from respective psychiatric disorders (i.e., psychotic, bipolar and unipolar depressive, anxiety, and substance use disorders) suggesting that cognitive control perturbations amidst psychopathology are most pronounced within these common brain and behavioral indices of adaptive cognitive functioning and moreover, are evident across disorders (i.e., transdiagnostically). Specifically, within each of the disorder classes impairments are consistent in the multiple demand network across a wide range of cognitive tasks. While severity varies between disorders, broad as opposed to domain-specific impairments consistently emerge in neurocognitive performance. Accumulating findings have revealed that phenotypically diverse psychiatric disorders share a common factor or vulnerability to dysfunction that is in turn related to broad neurocognitive deficits. Furthermore, we have observed that regions of the multiple demand network, which overlap with the salience network (dorsal anterior cingulate and bilateral anterior insula) are characterized by reduced gray matter transdiagnostically and predict weaker neurocognitive performance. In summary, transdiagnostic (as opposed to disorder-specific) patterns of symptomatic distress and neurocognitive performance deficits, concurrent with parallel anomalies of brain structure and function may largely contribute to the real-world socio-occupational impairment common across disorders.

Keywords: Cognitive control; Multiple demand network; Neurocognition; RDoC; Transdiagnostic; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / pathology
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / complications*
  • Mental Disorders / pathology