Effects of amphetamine challenge on working memory in schizophrenia: A fMRI study

Christine Tipper is committed to studying schizophrenia in a multi-disciplinary manner. That’s why Christine combined cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology in her Master’s research on the disorder. She specifically examined the increases in brain activity that schizophrenia patients experience in areas of the brain associated with working memory — a phenomenon that is especially pronounced during acute phases of their illness. Research shows that both the acute symptoms of schizophrenia and the increased brain activity may be affected by high levels of dopamine, an important neurotransmitter (messenger) that brain cells use to communicate with each other. As one of only a few studies that have utilized fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging – an advanced MRI scanner) to examine the effects of a pharmacological compound, Christine studied the impact of amphetamine – an agent with neurochemical responses that partially mimic the brain’s chemistry during acute schizophrenia – on brain functions involved in working memory. The research confirmed a relationship between amphetamine dose and working memory processing efficiency, supporting the implication that both the excessive dopaminergic activity associated with acute schizophrenia, and excessive dopaminergic blockade caused by overmedication may lead to working memory deficits. Christine hopes her findings will help physicians identify individuals at high risk for developing schizophrenia, potentially leading to earlier treatment and better long-term outcomes.