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Neuropsychological evidence for frontostriatal dysfunction in schizophrenia

  • R. Elliott (a1), P. J. McKenna (a1), T. W. Robbins (a1) and B. J. Sahakian (a1)


Schizophrenics and controls were compared on a computerized test of attentional set-shifting which provides a componential analysis of the Wisconsin Card Sort Test and has previously been shown to be sensitive to frontal lobe dysfunction and Parkinson's disease. The main test was of extra-dimensional shifting where subjects are required to shift reponse to an alternative perceptual dimension. In one condition, termed ‘perseveration’, subjects are required to shift to a novel dimension and ignore the previously relevant one. In the other condition, termed ‘learned irrelevance’, subjects are required to shift to the previously irrelevant dimension and ignore a novel one. Chronic medicated schizophrenics (N = 32) show a highly significant impairment on the perseveration but not the learned irrelevance condition, as compared to normal age and IQ matched controls (N = 24). This was true even of a subgroup of patients with preserved IQ. The impairments in attentional set-shifting failed to correlate with patients' scores on the Mini-Mental State Examination (mean; S.D. 26·8; 1·8) or with scores on a test of recognition memory. These results provide evidence for a specific deficit in a set-shifting test of executive function and support a hypothesis of frontostriatal dysfunction in schizophrenia.


Corresponding author

1 Address for correspondence: Dr Barbara J. Sahakian, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2QQ.


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