Cognitive deficits in the families of patients with schizophrenia

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Purpose of review

Studies of first-degree relatives of patients with schizophrenia over the past 25 years have reported a number of cognitive deficits, primarily in the domains of memory and executive function. Nevertheless, due to a number of methodological issues, such as including different types of relatives and not controlling for possible psychopathology, it is not yet clear that these findings can fully support a conclusion of heritability of cognitive dysfunction associated with a schizophrenia genotype.

Recent findings

Several recent meta-analyses have shown that the most consistent deficit shown by relatives is impaired performance on ‘maintenance plus’ frontal-lobe tasks requiring increased effort and higher central executive processing. Studies of multiplex families (multiple diagnoses in one family) also report that family members tend to have more difficulty on executive function tasks. Another interesting trend is research on subgroups of patients and relatives displaying distinct cognitive syndromes, particularly a subgroup with a generalized cognitive deficit.


As methodological designs improve, this field of study holds promise not only for understanding the neurobiological mechanisms of schizophrenia and the associated cognitive deficits, but also for possibly describing endophenotypes that may lead to identifying at-risk patients and relatives.

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