Open Access Research article

Disordered semantic representation in schizophrenic temporal cortex revealed by neuromagnetic response patterns

Andreas Löw1*, Brigitte Rockstroh1, Thomas Elbert1, Yaron Silberman2 and Shlomo Bentin2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, 78457 Konstanz, Germany

2 Department of Psychology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, 91905, Israel

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BMC Psychiatry 2006, 6:23  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-6-23

Published: 23 May 2006

Abstract

Background

Loosening of associations and thought disruption are key features of schizophrenic psychopathology. Alterations in neural networks underlying this basic abnormality have not yet been sufficiently identified. Previously, we demonstrated that spatio-temporal clustering of magnetic brain responses to pictorial stimuli map categorical representations in temporal cortex. This result has opened the possibility to quantify associative strength within and across semantic categories in schizophrenic patients. We hypothesized that in contrast to controls, schizophrenic patients exhibit disordered representations of semantic categories.

Methods

The spatio-temporal clusters of brain magnetic activities elicited by object pictures related to super-ordinate (flowers, animals, furniture, clothes) and base-level (e.g. tulip, rose, orchid, sunflower) categories were analysed in the source space for the time epochs 170–210 and 210–450 ms following stimulus onset and were compared between 10 schizophrenic patients and 10 control subjects.

Results

Spatio-temporal correlations of responses elicited by base-level concepts and the difference of within vs. across super-ordinate categories were distinctly lower in patients than in controls. Additionally, in contrast to the well-defined categorical representation in control subjects, unsupervised clustering indicated poorly defined representation of semantic categories in patients. Within the patient group, distinctiveness of categorical representation in the temporal cortex was positively related to negative symptoms and tended to be inversely related to positive symptoms.

Conclusion

Schizophrenic patients show a less organized representation of semantic categories in clusters of magnetic brain responses than healthy adults. This atypical neural network architecture may be a correlate of loosening of associations, promoting positive symptoms.