Working Memory and Schizophrenia - Carnegie Mellon U. Research

PITTSBURGH (April 10, 1997 01:13 a.m. EDT) -- Call directory information, get a phone number, make the call. Congratulations. You've just exercised your prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps separate man from beast. Using new imaging techniques that let them watch the brain in action, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University showed that cells in the prefrontal cortex fire and remain active while you hold information in your working memory. By contrast, many neuroscientists have suspected that this area might process working memory only momentarily. The implications are hard to predict, he acknowledged, but might well lead to improved treatments for schizophrenia. The prefrontal cortex is more highly developed in humans than in other animals, Cohen said, and "is the core of what makes us human." The ability to make plans and solve problems resides here; so, too, may schizophrenia, a disease unique to humans. Beginning this week, he and his colleagues will be using the imaging technique, called functional magnetic resonance imaging, to study schizophrenic patients. The hope is that by comparing what they now know about working memory in healthy people with what they see in schizophrenics, they might understand the nature of the memory defect, or find differences between schizophrenics that might explain variations in the disease. The findings reported by the Pittsburgh researchers, as well as a separate study in Nature by Susan Courtney at the National Institutes of Health, confirm earlier studies in monkeys (That's one reason we have to support animal research-dj). (Thanks to Mike Miller for the above)

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