Impulsive decision making, brain cortical thickness and familial schizophrenia risk

Schizophr Res. 2020 Jun;220:54-60. doi: 10.1016/j.schres.2020.03.072. Epub 2020 Apr 15.


Background: Schizophrenia (SZ) patients and their biological relatives are more impulsive than controls. Although greater impulsivity in SZ has been associated with dysfunction in prefrontal neural circuits implicated in reward processing, little is known regarding brain structural correlates of heightened impulsivity in unaffected adolescent relatives of SZ patients.

Methods: Impulsive decision-making was assessed using the delay discounting task in 174 adolescents: 36 first-degree relatives (FDR) and 50 second-degree relatives (SDR) of SZ patients, and 88 healthy controls with no SZ family history (NSFH). We contrasted MRI brain gray matter cortical thickness-discounting constant (k) relationships between these 3 comparison groups using well-validated statistical approaches.

Results: FDR had a distinct pattern in cortical thickness-k associations when compared to NSFH and SDR. Preference for immediate rewards (i.e. greater impulsivity) among FDR correlated with less cortical thickness within diffuse brain regions, including dorsolateral prefrontal (cognitive control network and motor/premotor cortex) and lateral temporal (auditory and visual association cortex) brain areas.

Conclusions: Adolescent impulsive decision-making may serve as an informative phenotype of underlying brain circuitry dysfunction associated with SZ risk. Future research focusing on impulsivity in SZ will likely help advance understanding how dysfunctional interactions between cognitive and reward neural circuits contribute to the neurobiological basis of SZ.

Keywords: Adolescence; Cognition; Delay discounting; Family study; Imaging; Reward processing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Cortical Thickness
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Reward
  • Schizophrenia* / diagnostic imaging
  • Schizophrenia* / genetics