Schizophrenia: Impaired White Matter Linked To Deficits in Cognitive Processing Speed Interview with:

Peter Kochunov PhD Professor Maryland Psychiatric Research Center

Dr. Kochunov

Peter Kochunov PhD
Maryland Psychiatric Research Center What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Schizophrenia is a debilitating disorder that strikes young people at the point of entering adulthood. In the past, we and others demonstrated that patients with schizophrenia are characterized by deficits in the white matter of the brain. White matter is the part of the brain that serves the backbone of cerebral networks transmitting information and interconnecting brain regions.

In this report, we link the impaired white matter of the brain in schizophrenia patients with the disorder-related deficits in the processing speed. We also showed that mental processing speed is a fundamental cognitive construct that partially supports other functions like working memory in patients, where processing speed acting as the intermediate between white matter deficits and reduced working memory. This interesting relationship between processing speed, working memory, and white matter is most obvious in white matter regions most vulnerable to schizophrenia. That was the main finding of the study. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Therapeutic interventions are available for management of active symptoms and are at least partially successful in alleviation of some of the symptoms. Yet, schizophrenia is also characterized by cognitive deficits including slowing of the thinking process and memory deficits. Neuropsychological tests that measure how fast individuals can process information mentally are among most sensitive to differentiate between patients and control. These cognitive deficits contribute to low inability to keep a job and lead an active life. The neurobiological and neuropharmocological research on schizophrenia has long been focused on the neurons and neurotransmitter systems. Schizophrenia drugs are developed based on their ability to alter concentrations of certain receptors. However, schizophrenia is also thought as a disorder of disconnectivity, a disorder that causes disturbances in the neural networks responsible for cognition. Therefore, our group has been attempting to refocus the research interest on the part of the brain that is responsible for maintaining these networks – the white matter. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: The future research should be focused on understanding of the causes of white matter deficits in schizophrenia. Likely, they are multifactorial and involve factors such as cerebral inflammation and metabolism and cellular health of oligodencorcyte and astrocytes and other cells that support cerebral white matter. Pharmacological research that helps patients with schizophrenia to reduce white matter decline may also have a wide range of impacts besides schizophrenia. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Kochunov P, Coyle TR, Rowland LM, Jahanshad N, Thompson PM, Kelly S, Du X, Sampath H, Bruce H, Chiappelli J, Ryan M, Fisseha F, Savransky A, Adhikari B, Chen S, Paciga SA, Whelan CD, Xie Z, Hyde CL, Chen X, Schubert CR, O’Donnell P, Hong LE. Association of White Matter With Core Cognitive Deficits in Patients With Schizophrenia. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online August 02, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.2228

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.


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Last Updated on August 2, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD