Prefrontal cortex dysfunction mediates deficits in working memory and prepotent responding in schizophrenia

William M. Perlstein, Neha K. Dixit, Cameron S. Carter, Douglas C. Noll, Jonathan D. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

248 Scopus citations


Background: Schizophrenic patients show deficits in working memory (WM) and inhibition of prepotent responses. We examined brain activity while subjects performed tasks that placed demands on WM and overriding prepotent response tendencies, testing predictions that both processes engage overlapping prefrontal cortical (PFC) regions and that schizophrenic patients show reduced PFC activity and performance deficits reflecting both processes. Methods: Functional magnetic resonance imaging data were acquired while 16 schizophrenic and 15 healthy subjects performed the N-Back task that varied WM load and a version of the AX-CPT that required overriding a prepotent response tendency. Results: Both tasks engaged overlapping cortical networks (e.g., bilateral dorsolateral PFC, Broca's area, parietal cortex). Increased WM load monotonically increased activity; preparation to override a prepotent response produced greater and more enduring activity. Group differences on each task emerged in a right dorsolateral PFC region: schizophrenic subjects showed lesser magnitude increases under conditions of high WM and prepotent response override demands, with concomitant performance impairments. Conclusions: Schizophrenic patients exhibit PFC-mediated deficits in WM and preparation to override prepotent responses. Findings are consistent with the operation of a single underlying PFC-mediated cognitive control mechanism and with physiologic dysfunction of the dorsolateral PFC in schizophrenic patients reflecting impairments in this mechanism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-38
Number of pages14
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biological Psychiatry


  • Cognitive control
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Response inhibition
  • Schizophrenia
  • Working memory


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