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Goal-directed control guides optimal decision-making and it is an important cognitive faculty that protects against developing habits. Previous studies have found some evidence of goal-directed deficits when healthy individuals are stressed, and in psychiatric conditions characterised by compulsive behaviours and anxiety. Here, we tested if goal-directed control is affected by state anxiety, which might explain the former results.
We carried out a causal test of this hypothesis in two experiments (between-subject N = 88; within-subject N = 50) that used the inhalation of hypercapnic gas (7.5% CO2) to induce an acute state of anxiety in healthy volunteers. In a third experiment (N = 1413), we used a correlational design to test if real-life anxiety-provoking events (panic attacks, stressful events) are associated with impaired goal-directed control.
In the former two causal experiments, we induced a profoundly anxious state, both physiologically and psychologically, but this did not affect goal-directed performance. In the third, correlational, study, we found no evidence for an association between goal-directed control, panic attacks or stressful life eventsover and above variance accounted for by trait differences in compulsivity.
In sum, three complementary experiments found no evidence that anxiety impairs goal-directed control in human subjects.
A functional polymorphism of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor gene (BDNF) Val66Met has been associated with cognitive function and symptom severity in patients with schizophrenia. It has been suggested that the Val66Met polymorphism has a role as a modulator in a range of clinical features of the illness, including symptoms severity, therapeutic responsiveness, age of onset, brain morphology and cognitive function. However, little work has been done in first-episode schizophrenia (FES) spectrum disorders. The objective of this study is to investigate the association of the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism on cognitive function and clinical symptomatology in FES patients.
Using a cross-sectional design in a cohort of 204 patients with FES or a schizophrenia spectrum disorder and 204 healthy matched controls, we performed BDNF Val66Met genotyping and tested its relationship with cognitive testing (attention, working memory, learning/verbal memory and reasoning/problem-solving) and assessment of clinical symptom severity.
There was no significant influence of the BDNF allele frequency on cognitive factor scores in either patients or controls. An augmented severity of negative symptoms was found in FES patients that carried the Met allele.
The results of this study suggest that in patients with a first-episode of schizophrenia or a schizophrenia spectrum disorder, the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism does not exert an influence on cognitive functioning, but is associated with negative symptoms severity. BDNF may serve as suitable marker of negative symptomatology severity in FES patients within the schizophrenia spectrum.
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