New efforts to develop treatments for cognitive dysfunction in mental illnesses would benefit enormously from biomarkers that provide sensitive and reliable measures of the neural events underlying cognition. Here, we evaluate the promise of event-related potentials (ERPs) as biomarkers of cognitive dysfunction in schizophrenia. We conclude that ERPs have several desirable properties: 1) they provide a direct measure of electrical activity during neurotransmission; 2) their high temporal resolutions make it possible to measure neural synchrony and oscillations; 3) they are relatively inexpensive and convenient to record; 4) animal models are readily available for several ERP components; 5) decades of research has established the sensitivity and reliability of ERP measures in psychiatric illnesses; and 6) feasibility of large N (>500) multisite studies has been demonstrated for key measures. Consequently, ERPs may be useful for identifying endophenotypes and defining treatment targets, for evaluating new compounds in animals and in humans, and for identifying individuals who are good candidates for early interventions or for specific treatments. However, several challenges must be overcome before ERPs gain widespread use as biomarkers in schizophrenia research, and we make several recommendations for the research that is necessary to develop and validate ERP-based biomarkers that can have a real impact on treatment development.
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