Restoring Reality Monitoring Behavior and Brain Activation in Schizophrenia

The following article was written by Srikantan Nagarajan, Ph.D., M.S., Professor in the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging, and the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences at UCSF, and a core faculty member in the UCSF/UCB Joint Graduate Program in Bioengineering.

A ground-breaking new study, published in the February 23rd issue of Neuron, finds that a specific type of computerized cognitive training can lead to significant neural and behavioral improvements in individuals with schizophrenia. This study is part of an ongoing collaboration between UCSF Radiology and Dr. Sophia Vinogradov from the UCSF Department of Psychiatry.

Our research revealed that 16 weeks of intensive cognitive training is associated with improved social functioning several months later. Additionally, this therapy may have far-reaching implications for improving the quality of life for patients suffering from neuropsychiatric illness.

The study took a unique approach to improving brain activation and behavior in patients with schizophrenia.   We predicted that in order to improve complex meta-cognitive functions in neuropsychiatric illness, we must target impairments in lower level perceptual processes, as well as higher-order working-memory and social cognitive processes.

When compared with pre-training assessments, schizophrenia patients who received eighty hours of computerized training over the 16 week study exhibited improvements in their ability to perform complex reality-monitoring tasks, which were associated with increased activation of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC).

These findings raise the exciting likelihood that the neural impairments in schizophrenia are not immutably fixed, but may be amenable to well-designed interventions that target restoration of neural system functioning.

Dr Sophia Vinogradov also concluded that “Our study is the first to demonstrate that neuroscience-informed cognitive training can lead to more ‘normal’ brain-behavior associations in patients with schizophrenia, which in turn predicts better social functioning months later,”

For more information on this research, please see here.