Previous studies have reported abnormal prefrontal and cingulate activity during attentional control processing in schizophrenia. However, it is not clear how variation in attentional control load modulates activity within these brain regions in this brain disorder. The aim of this study in schizophrenia is to investigate the impact of increasing levels of attentional control processing on prefrontal and cingulate activity. Blood oxygen level--dependent (BOLD) responses of 16 outpatients with schizophrenia were compared with those of 21 healthy subjects while performing a task eliciting increasing levels of attentional control during event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging at 3 T. Results showed reduced behavioral performance in patients at greater attentional control levels. Imaging data indicated greater prefrontal activity at intermediate attentional control levels in patients but greater prefrontal and cingulate responses at high attentional control demands in controls. The BOLD activity profile of these regions in controls increased linearly with increasing cognitive loads, whereas in patients, it was nonlinear. Correlation analysis consistently showed differential region and load-specific relationships between brain activity and behavior in the 2 groups. These results indicate that varying attentional control load is associated in schizophrenia with load- and region-specific modification of the relationship between behavior and brain activity, possibly suggesting earlier saturation of cognitive capacity.
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