Background: A large number of studies suggest the presence of deficits in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex function during performance of working memory tasks in individuals with schizophrenia. However, working memory deficits may also present in other psychiatric disorders, such as major depression. It is not clear whether people with major depression also demonstrate impaired prefrontal activation during performance of working memory tasks. Methods: We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to assess the patterns of cortical activation associated with the performance of a 2-back version of the N-Back task (working memory) in 38 individuals with schizophrenia and 14 with major depression. Results: We found significant group differences in the activation of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex associated with working memory performance. Consistent with prior research, participants with schizophrenia failed to show activation of right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in response to working memory tasks demands, whereas those with major depression showed clear activation of right and left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex as well as bilateral activation of inferior and superior frontal cortex. Conclusions: During performance of working memory tasks, deficits in prefrontal activation, including dorsolateral regions, are more severe in participants with schizophrenia (most of whom were recently released outpatients) than in unmedicated outpatients with acute nonpsychotic major depression. © 2003 Society of Biological Psychiatry.
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