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Several sex differences in schizophrenia have been reported including differences in cognitive functioning. Studies with schizophrenia patients and healthy controls (HC) indicate that the sex advantage for women in verbal domains is also present in schizophrenia patients. However, findings have been inconsistent. No study focused on sex-related cognitive performance differences in at-risk mental state for psychosis (ARMS) individuals yet. Thus, the aim of the present study was to investigate sex differences in cognitive functioning in ARMS, first episode psychosis (FEP) and HC subjects. We expected a better verbal learning and memory performance of women in all groups.
The neuropsychological data analysed in this study were collected within the prospective Früherkennung von Psychosen (FePsy) study. In total, 118 ARMS, 88 FEP individuals and 86 HC completed a cognitive test battery covering the domains of executive functions, attention, working memory, verbal learning and memory, IQ and speed of processing.
Women performed better in verbal learning and memory regardless of diagnostic group. By contrast, men as compared to women showed a shorter reaction time during the working memory task across all groups.
The results provide evidence that women generally perform better in verbal learning and memory, independent of diagnostic group (ARMS, FEP, HC). The finding of a shorter reaction time for men in the working memory task could indicate that men have a superior working memory performance since they responded faster during the target trials, while maintaining a comparable overall working memory performance level.
Previous neuroimaging studies indicate abnormalities in cortico-limbic circuitry in mood disorder. Here we employ prospective longitudinal voxel-based morphometry to examine the trajectory of these abnormalities during early stages of illness development.
Unaffected individuals (16–25 years) at high and low familial risk of mood disorder underwent structural brain imaging on two occasions 2 years apart. Further clinical assessment was conducted 2 years after the second scan (time 3). Clinical outcome data at time 3 was used to categorize individuals: (i) healthy controls (‘low risk’, n = 48); (ii) high-risk individuals who remained well (HR well, n = 53); and (iii) high-risk individuals who developed a major depressive disorder (HR MDD, n = 30). Groups were compared using longitudinal voxel-based morphometry. We also examined whether progress to illness was associated with changes in other potential risk markers (personality traits, symptoms scores and baseline measures of childhood trauma), and whether any changes in brain structure could be indexed using these measures.
Significant decreases in right amygdala grey matter were found in HR MDD v. controls (p = 0.001) and v. HR well (p = 0.005). This structural change was not related to measures of childhood trauma, symptom severity or measures of sub-diagnostic anxiety, neuroticism or extraversion, although cross-sectionally these measures significantly differentiated the groups at baseline.
These longitudinal findings implicate structural amygdala changes in the neurobiology of mood disorder. They also provide a potential biomarker for risk stratification capturing additional information beyond clinically ascertained measures.
Neurocognitive performance deficits have been observed in mood disorder patients and their unaffected relatives and may therefore qualify as endophenotypes. However, the precise time course of neurocognitive deficits has not been studied so that it is unknown whether neurocognitive abnormalities reflect the early effects of familial vulnerability to mood disorders or if they emerge at illness onset.
A neuropsychological test battery was administered at baseline and after a 2-year follow-up interval in 111 initially unaffected young adults at high familial risk of mood disorders and 93 healthy controls (HC). During the follow-up period, 20 high-risk subjects developed major depressive disorder (HR-MDD), with the remainder remaining well (HR-well). Linear mixed-effects models were used to investigate differences and longitudinal changes in the domains of attentional processing, working memory, verbal learning and memory, and cognitive flexibility.
Reduced long delay verbal memory and extradimensional set-shifting performance across both time points were found in the HR-well group relative to controls. The HR-MDD group displayed decreased extradimensional set-shifting abilities across both time points as compared with the HC group only. There were no significant performance differences between the two high-risk groups.
Reduced verbal memory and cognitive flexibility are familial trait markers for vulnerability to mood disorders in individuals with a close family history of bipolar disorder. Both neurocognitive performance deficits appear to be relatively stable over a 2-year time period and do not appear to be linked to the onset of MDD. These findings support their use as stable quantitative endophenotypes for mood disorders.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has been associated with response inhibition deficits under motivationally neutral contingencies. We examined response inhibition performance in the presence of reward and punishment. We further investigated whether the hypothesized difficulties in flexibly updating behaviour based on external feedback in OCD would also lead to a reduced ability to adjust to changes in the reward and punishment contingencies.
Participants completed a go/no-go task that used punishments or rewards to promote response activation or suppression. The task was administered to OCD patients free of current Axis-I co-morbidities including major depression (n = 20) and a group of healthy controls (n = 32).
Compared with controls, patients with OCD had increased commission errors in punishment conditions, and failed to slow down immediately after receiving punishment. The punishment-induced increase in commission errors correlated with self-report measures of OCD symptom severity. Additionally, patients did not differ from controls in adapting their overall response style to the changes in task contingencies.
Individuals with OCD showed reduced response control selectively under punishment conditions, manifesting in an impulsive response style that was related to their current symptom severity. This stresses failures of cognitive control in OCD, particularly under negative motivational contingencies.
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