Theory of mind network activity is altered in subjects with familial liability for schizophrenia

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Abstract

As evidenced by a multitude of studies, abnormalities in Theory of Mind (ToM) and its neural processing might constitute an intermediate phenotype of schizophrenia. If so, neural alterations during ToM should be observable in unaffected relatives of patients as well, since they share a considerable amount of genetic risk. While behaviorally, impaired ToM function is confirmed meta-analytically in relatives, evidence on aberrant function of the neural ToM network is sparse and inconclusive. The present study therefore aimed to further explore the neural correlates of ToM in relatives of schizophrenia. About 297 controls and 63 unaffected first-degree relatives of patients with schizophrenia performed a ToM task during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Consistent with the literature relatives exhibited decreased activity of the medial prefrontal cortex. Additionally, increased recruitment of the right middle temporal gyrus and posterior cingulate cortex was found, which was related to subclinical paranoid symptoms in relatives. These results further support decreased medial prefrontal activation during ToM as an intermediate phenotype of genetic risk for schizophrenia. Enhanced recruitment of posterior ToM areas in relatives might indicate inefficiency mechanisms in the presence of genetic risk.

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