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Schizophr Res. 2010 Sep;122(1-3):104-12. doi: 10.1016/j.schres.2010.03.019.

Attention deficits in schizophrenia--preliminary evidence of dissociable transient and sustained deficits.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7160, USA.


Attention deficits are considered to be fundamental in patients with schizophrenia. During attention tasks, patients with schizophrenia have been shown to display increased brain activity in some neuroimaging studies but reduced brain activity in others. These conflicting findings may be due to some study designs primarily eliciting transient engagement of attention and other study designs primarily eliciting sustained engagement of attention. In the present study, ten males with schizophrenia and fourteen age-matched, male controls performed a visual selective attention task. A mixed block/event-related fMRI design was used, allowing for separate analysis of transient and sustained phases of attention. Results revealed that the schizophrenia group made significantly fewer correct responses and displayed a significantly slower mean response time than the control group. Voxel-wise random effects analyses revealed that both groups displayed activation in regions considered to constitute a core attentional network including the anterior cingulate gyrus, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, insula and inferior parietal sulcus. Region of Interest (ROI) analyses revealed that across the entire sequence of task and non-task blocks, the schizophrenia group displayed a greater percentage of active voxels than controls in many ROIs. However, during transient periods most pertinent to task performance, the schizophrenia group displayed a lower percentage of active voxels than controls. These results help to explain contrasting findings across previous studies and suggest that attention deficits displayed by patients with schizophrenia are more likely to reflect deficits in modulating brain activity in response to variations in transient, attention demanding stimuli, rather than deficits in sustained attention.

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