How Working Memory Goes Wrong in Schizophrenia

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In a new study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, researchers discover that cognitive problems that often plague people with schizophrenia may be due to disruptions in the brain’s visuospatial working memory network.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh studied the patterns of the neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA in a network of brain regions that temporarily maintain and process visual information about the location of objects in space. This cognitive ability is known as visuospatial working memory.

Their findings suggest that the exact balance between glutamate (the excitatory or “accelerator” neurotransmitter) and GABA (the inhibitory or “brake” neurotransmitter) might be shifted in certain brain regions in schizophrenia patients.

Optimal function of visuospatial working memory requires a precise balance of the activity between glutamate and GABA, so these alterations may be what’s causing the disrupted visuospatial working memory in the disorder.

In the study, first author Gil Hoftman, M.D., Ph. D., and colleagues mapped the normal levels of gene products involved in the production and use of glutamate and GABA in brain tissue from deceased subjects with and without schizophrenia.

They looked at four regions of the cortex, the outermost layers of the brain where high level thinking takes place, that form the network responsible for visuospatial working memory.

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