Schizophrenia, a debilitating disorder with typical manifestation of clinical symptoms in early adulthood, is characterized by cognitive impairments in executive processes such as in working memory (WM). However, there is a rare case of individuals with early-onset schizophrenia (EOS) starting before their 18th birthday, while WM and its neural substrates are still undergoing maturation. Using the WM n-back task with functional magnetic resonance imaging, we assessed the functional neurodevelopment of WM in adolescents with EOS and age- and gender-matched typically developing controls. Participants underwent neuroimaging in the same scanner twice, once at age 17 and at 21 (mean interscan interval = 4.3 years). General linear model analysis was performed to explore WM neurodevelopmental changes within and between groups. Psychopathological scores were entered in multiple regressions to detect brain regions whose longitudinal functional change was predicted by baseline symptoms in EOS. WM neurodevelopment was characterized by widespread functional reductions in frontotemporal and cingulate brain areas in patients and controls. No between-group differences were found in the trajectory of WM change. Baseline symptom scores predicted functional neurodevelopmental changes in frontal, cingulate, parietal, occipital, and cerebellar areas. The adolescent brain undergoes developmental processes such as synaptic pruning, which may underlie the refinement WM of network. Prefrontal and parietooccipital activity reduction is affected by clinical presentation of symptoms. Using longitudinal neuroimaging methods in a rare diagnostic sample of patients with EOS may help the advancement of neurodevelopmental biomarkers intended as pharmacological targets to tackle WM impairment.
- Early-onset schizophrenia
- Working memory