Structural and functional abnormalities have been found in language-related brain regions in patients with schizophrenia. We previously reported findings pointing to differences in word processing between people with schizophrenia and individuals who are at high-risk for schizophrenia using a voxel-based (whole brain) fMRI approach. We now extend this finding to specifically examine functional activity in three language related cortical regions using a larger cohort of individuals.
A visual lexical discrimination task was performed by 36 controls, 21 subjects at high genetic-risk for schizophrenia, and 20 patients with schizophrenia during blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) fMRI scanning. Activation in bilateral inferior frontal gyri (Brodmann's area 44-45), bilateral inferior parietal lobe (Brodmann's area 39-40), and bilateral superior temporal gyri (Brodmann's area 22) was investigated. For all subjects, two-tailed Pearson correlations were calculated between the computed laterality index and a series of cognitive test scores determining language functioning.
Regional activation in Brodmann's area 44-45 was left lateralized in normal controls, while high-risk subjects and patients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder showed more bilateral activation. No significant differences among the three diagnostic groups in the other two regions of interest (Brodmann's area 22 or areas 39-40) were found. Furthermore, the apparent reasons for loss of leftward language lateralization differed between groups. In high-risk subjects, the loss of lateralization was based on reduced left hemisphere activation, while in the patient group, it was due to increased right side activation. Language ability related cognitive scores were positively correlations with the laterality indices obtained from Brodmann's areas 44-45 in the high-risk group, and with the laterality indices from Brodmann's areas 22 and 44-45 in the patient group.
This study reinforces previous language related imaging studies in high-risk subjects and patients with schizophrenia suggesting that reduced functional lateralization in language related frontal cortex may be a vulnerability marker for schizophrenia. Future studies will determine whether it is predictive of who develops illness.