Schizophrenia is associated with a pattern of spatial working memory deficits consistent with cortical disinhibition

Martina Starc, John D. Murray, Nicole Santamauro, Aleksandar Savic, Caroline Diehl, Youngsun T. Cho, Vinod Srihari, Peter T. Morgan, John H. Krystal, Xiao Jing Wang, Grega Repovs, Alan Anticevic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Schizophrenia is associated with severe cognitive deficits, including impaired working memory (WM). A neural mechanism that may contribute to WM impairment is the disruption in excitation-inhibition (E/I) balance in cortical microcircuits. It remains unknown, however, how these alterations map onto quantifiable behavioral deficits in patients. Based on predictions from a validated microcircuit model of spatial WM, we hypothesized two key behavioral consequences: i) increased variability of WM traces over time, reducing performance precision; and ii) decreased ability to filter out distractors that overlap with WM representations. To test model predictions, we studied N = 27 schizophrenia patients and N = 28 matched healthy comparison subjects (HCS) who performed a spatial WM task designed to test the computational model. Specifically, we manipulated delay duration and distractor distance presented during the delay. Subjects used a high-sensitivity joystick to indicate the remembered location, yielding a continuous response measure. Results largely followed model predictions, whereby patients exhibited increased variance and less WM precision as the delay period increased relative to HCS. Schizophrenia patients also exhibited increased WM distractibility, with reports biased toward distractors at specific spatial locations, as predicted by the model. Finally, the magnitude of the WM drift and distractibility were significantly correlated, indicating a possibly shared underlying mechanism. Effects are consistent with elevated E/I ratio in schizophrenia, establishing a framework for translating neural circuit computational model of cognition to human experiments, explicitly testing mechanistic behavioral hypotheses of cellular-level neural deficits in patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-116
Number of pages10
JournalSchizophrenia Research
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


  • Cognitive deficits
  • Computational modeling
  • Disinhibition
  • Excitation/inhibition balance
  • Schizophrenia
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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