Negative symptoms in the psychosis continuum are linked to impairments in reward processing and cognitive function. Processes at the interface of reward processing and cognition and their relation to negative symptoms remain little studied, despite evidence suggestive of integration in mechanisms and neural circuitry. Here, we investigated brain activation during reward-dependent modulation of working memory (WM) and their relationship to negative symptoms in subclinical and early stages of the psychosis continuum. We included 27 persons with high schizotypal personality traits and 23 patients with first episode psychosis as well as 27 healthy controls. Participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while performing an established 2-back WM task with two reward levels (5 CHF vs. no reward), which allowed us to assess common reward-cognition regions through whole-brain conjunction analyses and to investigate relations with clinical scores of negative symptoms. As expected for behavior, reward facilitated performance while cognitive load diminished it. At the neural level, the conjunction of high reward and high cognitive load contrasts across the psychosis continuum showed increased hemodynamic activity in the thalamus and the cerebellar vermis. During high cognitive load, more severe apathy but not diminished expression in the psychosis continuum was associated with reduced activity in right lateral orbitofrontal cortex, midbrain, posterior vermal cerebellum, caudate and lateral parietal cortex. Our results suggest that hypoactivity in the cerebellar vermis and the cortical-striatal-midbrain-circuitry in the psychosis continuum relates to apathy possibly via impaired flexible cognitive resource allocation for effective goal pursuit.
Keywords: Apathy; Cerebellum; Functional neuroimaging; Psychosis spectrum.
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