Memory impairments are a major characteristic of schizophrenia (SZ). In the current study, we used an associative memory task to test the hypothesis that SZ patients and first-degree relatives have altered functional patterns in comparison to healthy controls. We analyzed the fMRI activation pattern during the presentation of a face-name task in 27 SZ patients, 23 first-degree relatives, and 27 healthy controls. In addition, we performed correlation analyses between individual psychopathology, accuracy and reaction time of the task and the beta scores of the functional brain activations. We observed a lower response accuracy and increased reaction time during the retrieval of face-name pairs in SZ patients compared with controls. Deficient performance was accompanied by abnormal functional activation patterns predominantly in DMN regions during encoding and retrieval. No significant correlation between individual psychopathology and neuronal activation during encoding or retrieval of face-name pairs was observed. Findings of first-degree relatives indicated slightly different functional pattern within brain networks in contrast to controls without significant differences in the behavioral task. Both the accuracy of memory performance as well as the functional activation pattern during retrieval revealed alterations in SZ patients, and, to a lesser degree, in relatives. The results are of potential relevance for integration within a comprehensive model of memory function in SZ. The development of a neurophysiological model of cognition in psychosis may help to clarify and improve therapeutic options to improve memory and functioning in the illness.
Keywords: associative memory; fMRI; face-name association task; schizophrenia; schizophrenia spectrum.