Patients with schizophrenia have frequently been found to perform poorly on tasks requiring selective attention, defined as the ability to focus attention on relevant information while simultaneously ignoring irrelevant stimuli. This study explores the brain mechanisms mediating attentional processing in patients with schizophrenia by measuring their regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) with positron emission tomography using [15O]water as they performed tasks that differed systematically in attentional demand.
Ten schizophrenic patients (either neurolepticnaive or withdrawn from medication) (patient group) and 10 normal volunteers (control group) performed auditory target detection tasks. Different types of auditory stimuli (environmental sounds, meaningless speech sounds, and words) were presented either binaurally (ie, same sounds in both ears) or dichotically (simultaneous and different sounds in the 2 ears). In dichotic conditions, subjects were instructed to focus on either their left or right ear.
Initial subtraction-based image analyses sought significant rCBF changes anywhere in the brain. Patients consistently had less significant activation than controls in right superotemporal gyrus (STG). Follow-up analyses used regions of interest traced on individual magnetic resonance images to precisely measure rCBF in STG. Unlike controls, patients had higher rCBF in the left STG during all activation conditions.
The abnormal task-related rCBF asymmetry in STG of schizophrenic patients may indicate an isolated temporal lobe deficit, but it may also indicate abnormality in the thalamocortical circuitry mediating selective attention and/or in the brain systems that integrate auditory processing in the 2 hemispheres.