Background. Motor skill learning may be impaired in schizophrenia. While functional brain imaging studies have shown reduced activation during motor task performance in schizophrenic patients, brain activity changes with motor skill learning in these patients have not been studied by functional imaging.
Methods. A sequential complex motor task involving the right hand was performed by nine medicated schizophrenic patients and 10 age-matched healthy controls. Functional magnetic resonance images were obtained using a gradient echo, echoplanar imaging (EPI) pulse sequence before and after 1 week of training in performing the task.
Results. Bilaterally, patients showed significantly less blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) signal response in the premotor area (PMA) before beginning motor training than controls. BOLD signal response increased in the left PMA of schizophrenic patients after 1 week of motor training; in contrast, the signal decreased in the left PMA of control subjects. Training effects concerning the number of finger movement sequences achieved did not differ between groups. Daily neuroleptic dose did not significantly affect changes with training in BOLD signal response in the PMA.
Conclusions. These preliminary results suggest that schizophrenic patients have dysfunction of neural networks in areas including the PMA that are involved in executing a complex motor task. In terms of brain activity, motor learning may be less efficient or slower in the patients than in healthy subjects.