Neural noise and cortical inhibition in schizophrenia

Brain Stimul. 2020 Sep-Oct;13(5):1298-1304. doi: 10.1016/j.brs.2020.06.015. Epub 2020 Jun 23.


Background: Neural information processing is subject to noise and this leads to variability in neural firing and behavior. Schizophrenia has been associated with both more variable motor control and impaired cortical inhibition, which is crucial for excitatory/inhibitory balance in neural commands.

Hypothesis: In this study, we hypothesized that impaired intracortical inhibition in motor cortex would contribute to task-related motor noise in schizophrenia.

Methods: We measured variability of force and of electromyographic (EMG) activity in upper limb and hand muscles during a visuomotor grip force-tracking paradigm in patients with schizophrenia (N = 25), in unaffected siblings (N = 17) and in healthy control participants (N = 25). Task-dependent primary motor cortex (M1) excitability and inhibition were assessed using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

Results: During force maintenance patients with schizophrenia showed increased variability in force and EMG, despite similar mean force and EMG magnitudes. Compared to healthy controls, patients with schizophrenia also showed increased M1 excitability and reduced cortical inhibition during grip-force tracking. EMG variability and force variability correlated negatively to cortical inhibition in patients with schizophrenia. EMG variability also correlated positively to negative symptoms. Siblings had similar variability and cortical inhibition compared to controls. Increased EMG and force variability indicate enhanced motor noise in schizophrenia, which relates to reduced motor cortex inhibition.

Conclusion: The findings suggest that excessive motor noise in schizophrenia may arise from an imbalance of M1 excitation/inhibition of GABAergic origin. Thus, higher motor noise may provide a useful marker of impaired cortical inhibition in schizophrenia.

Keywords: Cortical excitability; Force control; Muscle activity; Neural noise; Schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electromyography / methods*
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology
  • Female
  • Hand Strength / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Cortex / physiology
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology*
  • Schizophrenic Psychology*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods
  • Young Adult