Background. Prefrontal cortical dysfunctions, including disturbances in adaptive context-specific behavior, have been reported in neuropsychological and brain imaging studies of schizophrenia. Some data suggest that treatment with antipsychotic medications may ameliorate these deficits.
Method. We investigated antisaccade performance in 39 antipsychotic-naive, first-episode schizophrenia patients who were re-evaluated 6 weeks after treatment initiation. A group of matched healthy subjects were examined at similar time-points. Patients and healthy individuals available for longer-term testing were re-assessed 26 and 52 weeks after initial testing.
Results. Before treatment, patients showed elevated rates of response suppression errors and prolonged latencies of correct antisaccades. Increased rates of antisaccade errors were associated with faster response latencies during a separate, visually guided saccade task, but only prior to treatment. Throughout the 1-year follow-up, patients progressively improved in their ability to voluntarily suppress context-inappropriate behavior. Although treatment assignment was by clinician choice, results of exploratory analyses revealed that patients treated with risperidone progressively planned and initiated correct antisaccades more quickly than patients receiving haloperidol.
Conclusions. Deficits in the voluntary control of spatial attention are exaggerated during acute episodes of illness, but remain an enduring aspect of prefrontal dysfunction in schizophrenia even after treatment. During acute illness, speeded sensorimotor transformations may compound these deficits and contribute to the heightened distractibility associated with acute psychosis. Continued improvement in task performance throughout the 1-year follow-up suggests that partial normalization of prefrontal cognitive functions resulting from antipsychotic treatment may have a longer and more gradual time course than the reduction of acute psychotic symptoms.