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In schizophrenia, relative stability in the magnitude of cognitive deficits across age and illness duration is inconsistent with the evidence of accelerated deterioration in brain regions known to support these functions. These discrepant brain–cognition outcomes may be explained by variability in cognitive reserve (CR), which in neurological disorders has been shown to buffer against brain pathology and minimize its impact on cognitive or clinical indicators of illness.
Age-related change in fluid reasoning, working memory and frontal brain volume, area and thickness were mapped using regression analysis in 214 individuals with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder and 168 healthy controls. In patients, these changes were modelled as a function of CR.
Patients showed exaggerated age-related decline in brain structure, but not fluid reasoning compared to controls. In the patient group, no moderation of age-related brain structural change by CR was evident. However, age-related cognitive change was moderated by CR, such that only patients with low CR showed evidence of exaggerated fluid reasoning decline that paralleled the exaggerated age-related deterioration of underpinning brain structures seen in all patients.
In schizophrenia-spectrum illness, CR may negate ageing effects on fluid reasoning by buffering against pathologically exaggerated structural brain deterioration through some form of compensation. CR may represent an important modifier that could explain inconsistencies in brain structure – cognition outcomes in the extant literature.
While previous studies have identified relationships between hippocampal volumes and memory performance in schizophrenia, these relationships are not apparent in healthy individuals. Further, few studies have examined the role of hippocampal subfields in illness-related memory deficits, and no study has examined potential differences across varying illness stages. The current study aimed to investigate whether individuals with early and established psychosis exhibited differential relationships between visuospatial associative memory and hippocampal subfield volumes.
Measurements of visuospatial associative memory performance and grey matter volume were obtained from 52 individuals with a chronic schizophrenia-spectrum disorder, 28 youth with recent-onset psychosis, 52 older healthy controls, and 28 younger healthy controls.
Both chronic and recent-onset patients had impaired visuospatial associative memory performance, however, only chronic patients showed hippocampal subfield volume loss. Both chronic and recent-onset patients demonstrated relationships between visuospatial associative memory performance and hippocampal subfield volumes in the CA4/dentate gyrus and the stratum that were not observed in older healthy controls. There were no group by volume interactions when chronic and recent-onset patients were compared.
The current study extends the findings of previous studies by identifying particular hippocampal subfields, including the hippocampal stratum layers and the dentate gyrus, that appear to be related to visuospatial associative memory ability in individuals with both chronic and first-episode psychosis.
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