Functional and structural brain changes associated with the cognitive processing of emotional visual stimuli were assessed in schizophrenic patients after 16 weeks of antipsychotic treatment with ziprasidone. Forty-five adults aged 18 to 40 were recruited: 15 schizophrenia patients (DSM-IV criteria) treated with ziprasidone (mean daily dose = 120 mg), 15 patients treated with other antipsychotics, and 15 healthy controls who did not receive any medication. Functional and structural neuroimaging data were acquired at baseline and 16 weeks after treatment initiation. In each session, participants selected stimuli, taken from standardized sets, based on their emotional valence. After ziprasidone treatment, several prefrontal regions, typically involved in cognitive control (anterior cingulate and ventrolateral prefrontal cortices), were significantly activated in patients in response to positive versus negative stimuli. This effect was greater whenever they had to select negative compared to positive stimuli, indicating an asymmetric effect of cognitive treatment of emotionally laden information. No such changes were observed for patients under other antipsychotics. In addition, there was an increase in the brain volume commonly recruited by healthy controls and patients under ziprasidone, in response to cognitive processing of emotional information. The structural analysis showed no significant changes in the density of gray and white matter in ziprasidone-treated patients compared to patients receiving other antipsychotic treatments. Our results suggest that functional changes in brain activity after ziprasidone medication precede structural and clinical manifestations, as markers that the treatment is efficient in restoring the functionality of prefrontal circuits involved in processing emotionally laden information in schizophrenia.
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