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Several factor analytic studies have shown than anhedonia and avolition are included in the same factor, suggesting that motivational deficits in schizophrenia are related to a reduced experience of pleasure; however other studies have not confirmed this hypothesis. More recently, it has been hypothesized that avolition is related to a difficulty in anticipating reward value and\or regulating behavior on the basis of the associations between value and action.
This study is aimed to verify an impairment of reward anticipation in patients with deficit schizophrenia (DS), but not in those with non-deficit schizophrenia (NDS) and its association with primary negative symptoms, using event-related potentials (ERPs).
ERPs were recorded in 11 patients with DS, 23 patients with NDS and 23 healthy controls (HC), during anticipation of five different outcomes, small (SR) or large (LR) reward, small (SP) or large (LP) punishment or no-outcome (NO), and during feedback processing.
Patients did not differ from HC on indices of anticipatory or consummatory anhedonia, but they showed reduced motivation. During reward anticipation, only patients with primary and persistent avolition showed ERPs abnormalities, with respect to HC, in the early processing stages and a reduced activity of cortical generators in the cingulate, in the temporal-occipital and fronto-parietal regions, that are involved in the attention modulation and visual perceptual processing.
Our data suggest that anhedonia and avolition are partially independent constructs and that avolition is related to the inability to modulate attention and amplify visual perceptual processing of reward stimuli.
Previous studies have reported that patient with schizophrenia have preserved hedonic capacity, but impaired ability to anticipate future reward (anticipatory anhedonia) that, according to some authors, may underlie other aspects of negative symptoms, such as avolition.
The aim of our study was to demonstrate an impairment of reward anticipation in patients with deficit schizophrenia (DS), characterized by primary and persistent negative symptoms, but not in those with non-deficit schizophrenia (NDS) with respect to healthy controls (HC), by means of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
fMRI was recorded during the execution of the ’Monetary Incentive Delay’ task in 11 patients with DS, 23 patients with NDS and 23 HC, during the anticipation of five different outcomes, small (SR) or large (LR) reward, small (SP) or large (LP) punishment or no-outcome (NO).
The ventral striatum response to reward anticipation was preserved in subjects with schizophrenia. Only patients with DS, compared with HC, showed a significant reduction in the left caudate during the anticipation of reward. The reduced activity of the caudate correlated with the scores for avolition but not for anhedonia.
Our preliminary data suggest an involvement of the caudate in the abnormal processing of reward stimuli in patients with DS and show that avolition and anhedonia are subtended by different functional abnormalities.
The Mismatch Negativity (MMN) is an event-related potential (ERP) sensitive to early auditory deviance detection and has been shown to be reduced in patients with schizophrenia. Moreover, MMN amplitude reduction to duration deviant tones was found to be related to functional outcomes particularly, to social cognition and real-life functioning.
In the context of a multicentre study of the Italian Network for Research on Psychoses, our study focused on the investigation of early auditory discrimination components in relation to functioning in real-life in patients with schizophrenia.
ERPs were recorded in 64 chronic, stabilized patients with schizophrenia during the presentation of standard, duration deviants and frequency deviants tones while watching a cartoon. The Specific Level of Functioning (SLOF) scale was used to measure real-life functioning. Psychopathology, neurocognition and social cognition were measured by state of art instruments. Regression analyses were carried out using SLOF domains as dependent variables and MMN, psychopathology, neurocognition, extrapyramidal symptoms and social cognition as independent predictors.
Latency of MMN entered the regression equation only for the SLOF domain of common activities explaining less variance than social cognition and positive symptoms.
In stabilized patients with schizophrenia pre-attentive deficits, as indexed by MMN and P3a amplitude reduction, do not show any association with psychopathology or functioning. Latency of MMN was an independent predictor of some aspects of functioning with a smaller effect than social cognition and psychopathology domains.
Negative symptoms are the psychopathological domain most associated to poor outcome in patients with schizophrenia (SCZ). Insight into their pathophysiology might contribute to develop innovative treatments for the syndrome. Recently, it has been hypothesized that avolition is related to a difficulty in anticipating reward or integrating value and action.
Our study aimed to investigate abnormalities of reward anticipation in SCZ and evaluate associations of negative symptoms dimensions with the same abnormalities using electrophysiological indices.
ERPs were recorded during the execution of 'Monetary Incentive Delay' task in 30 SCZ patients stabilized on second generation antipsychotics and 23 and healthy controls (HC). Measures of anticipatory and consummatory pleasure, trait anhedonia and motivation were obtained in all subjects. A measure of avolition independent of anhedonia was obtained in patients.
Patients did not differ from HC with respect to trait anhedonia and experience of pleasure but showed a deficit of motivation. Unlike HC, P3 amplitude in patients did not discriminate stimuli relevance in the early interval and was higher for the anticipation of loss in the late interval. In SCZ, early P3 amplitude for loss and reward anticipation was inversely related to social anhedonia but not to avolition.
Patients with preserved experience and anticipation of reward seem unable to integrate the relevance and rewarding value of future events in the context of their ongoing task. Our results indicate that anhedonia and avolition are partially independent constructs and that SCZ might integrate better loss than reward.
Negative symptoms have long been recognized as a central feature of schizophrenia, which limit recovery, having a strong negative impact on real-life functioning. External validators of the negative symptoms domains might help refining hypotheses on their pathophysiological basis.
The objective of this study was to evaluate, in the context of the multicenter study of the Italian Network for Research on Psychoses, the relationships between auditory event-related potentials (ERPs) components and negative symptom domains in patients with schizophrenia (SCZ).
We examined ERPs recorded during an auditory odd-ball task in 115 chronic stabilized SCZ (78% on second-generation antipsychotics) and 62 matched healthy controls (HC). Negative symptoms were assessed using the Brief Negative Symptom Scale.
Our main findings included significant N100 and P3b amplitude reductions in SCZ compared to HC. P3b amplitude did not correlate with any negative symptom domain, while N100 amplitude correlated with both anhedonia and avolition domains.
Avolition and anhedonia, often clustering in the same factor, are related to abnormalities of early components of the ERPs correlated with perceptual and automatic attention processes. None of the negative symptom domains is associated with abnormalities of the later stages indexed by P3 amplitude.
Disclosure of interest
The authors have not supplied their declaration of competing interest.
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