BACKGROUND This study examined the pattern of cerebral blood flow observed in chronic schizophrenic patients while they performed a paced verbal fluency task. Such tasks engage a distributed brain system associated with willed action. Since willed action is impaired in many chronic schizophrenic patients we hypothesised that task performance would be associated with an abnormal pattern of blood flow.
METHOD Positron emission tomography (PET) was applied to 18 chronic schizophrenic patients stratified into three groups on the basis of verbal fluency performance and current symptoms. Regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) was measured while the patients performed (a) verbal fluency, (b) word categorisation, and (c) word repetition. Results were compared with six normal controls matched for age, sex and premorbid IQ. Analysis was restricted to six brain regions previously identified in studies of normal volunteers.
RESULTS In five brain areas, including the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the patients showed the same pattern of activation as control subjects. However, in the left superior temporal cortex, all patient groups failed to show the normal decrease in blood flow when verbal fluency was compared with word repetition.
CONCLUSION These observations suggest that (a) chronic schizophrenic patients can show a normal magnitude of frontal activation when matched for performance with controls, and (b) they fail to show the expected reductions of activity in the superior temporal cortex. This latter result may reflect abnormal functional connectivity between frontal and temporal cortex.