Neural correlates of memory dysfunction across stages of schizophrenia-spectrum disorder
Document TypePhD thesis
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© 2020 Cassandra Marie Joanne Wannan
Schizophrenia-spectrum disorders are severe mental illnesses characterised by hallucinations, delusions, blunted affect and disorganised thought patterns. A core feature of these disorders is cognitive deficits, which are associated with functional disability. Episodic memory, in particular, is one of the most severely impacted areas of cognitive functioning in schizophrenia-spectrum disorder, and memory deficits predict poorer clinical prognosis and increased functional disability. However, the longitudinal course of episodic memory deficits in schizophrenia-spectrum disorders is currently poorly defined, with the focus to date being on areas of functioning that are already impaired in early illness stages, such as verbal memory. In order to better understand trajectories, it may be important to examine areas of functioning that are preserved early in the illness, such as visual associative memory. Furthermore, there is currently a poor understanding of the neural underpinnings of memory impairment in schizophrenia-spectrum disorders, making it difficult to develop targeted interventions aimed at ameliorating these deficits. It is plausible that episodic memory impairments in these disorders is related to underlying dysfunction in the brain regions and networks that underlie this ability – namely, the hippocampus and its connections to the prefrontal cortex. This thesis utilised longitudinal cognitive assessment and cross-sectional multi modal neuroimaging to address three primary research aims: 1. To investigate the longitudinal course of episodic memory ability over a 5-11-year follow-up period in individuals with first-episode psychosis. 2. To investigate relationships between visual associative memory performance and hippocampal subfield volumes in FEP individuals and individuals with chronic schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. 3. to investigate whether visuospatial associative memory ability is related to white matter microstructure in the hippocampal-prefrontal pathway in FEP individuals and individuals with chronic schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. Results showed that visual associative memory ability was preserved in in individuals who had recently experienced a first psychotic episode, but deteriorated over a 5-11 year follow-up period. Conversely, verbal associative memory ability improved over the follow-up period to the same degree in FEP individuals and healthy controls. In a subsequent cross-sectional study, we found that, while hippocampal subfield volume reductions were present only in individuals with chronic schizophrenia-spectrum disorder, poorer episodic memory performance was associated with reduced subfield volumes in the CA4/dentate gyrus (DG) and in the stratum layers in both FEP individuals and those with chronic schizophrenia-spectrum disorder. Finally, we found that abnormal white matter microstructure in a number of memory-related ROIs and hippocampal-prefrontal pathways was present only in individuals with chronic schizophrenia-spectrum disorder. Furthermore, microstructural abnormalities in the fornix and the hippocampal-thalamic pathway were associated with poorer memory performance in individuals with chronic schizophrenia-spectrum disorder, but not FEP individuals. These findings provide new insights into the neural underpinnings of episodic memory impairment across stages of schizophrenia-spectrum disorder, and suggest that hippocampal structure may be more relevant to memory impairment in FEP individuals, with memory-related white matter abnormalities emerging in later illness stages.
KeywordsSchizophrenia; Episodic Memory; Cognition; Associative Learning; MRI; Neuroimaging; Hippocampus; White matter; First-episode psychosis
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