Neurodevelopmental origin of cognitive impairment in schizophrenia

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Cognitive impairment is a common feature of schizophrenia; however, its origin remains controversial. Neurodevelopmental abnormalities clearly play a role in pre-morbid cognitive dysfunction in schizophrenia, yet many authors believe that schizophrenia is characterized by illness-related cognitive decline before and after onset of the psychosis that can be the result of neurodegenerative changes. The main reasons behinds such arguments include, first, the evidence showing that effect sizes of the cognitive deficits in subjects who develop adult schizophrenia gradually increase in the first two decades of life and, second, the fact that there is functional decline in many patients with schizophrenia over the years. In this Editorial, I argue that current evidence suggests that illness-related cognitive impairment is neurodevelopmental in origin and characterized by slower gain (developmental lag) but not cognitive decline continuing throughout the first two decades of life. I introduce a model suggesting that neurodevelopmental abnormality can in fact explain the course of cognitive dysfunction and variations in the trajectory of functional decline throughout the life in individuals with schizophrenia. In this model, the severity of underlying neurodevelopmental abnormality determines the age that cognitive deficits first become apparent and contributes to the cognitive reserve of the individual. Interaction of neurodevelopmental abnormality with clinical symptoms, especially negative symptoms and aging, vascular changes, psychological and iatrogenic factors contributes to the heterogeneity of the functional trajectory observed in this disorder.

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