• Schizophrenia Patients Show Largely Similar Salience Signaling Compared to Healthy Controls in an Observational Task Environment

      Culbreth, Adam J; Kasanova, Zuzana; Ross, Thomas J; Salmeron, Betty J; Gold, James M; Stein, Elliot A; Waltz, James A (MDPI AG, 2021-12-06)
      Recent evidence suggests that the aberrant signaling of salience is associated with psychotic illness. Salience, however, can take many forms in task environments. For example, salience may refer to any of the following: (1) the valence of an outcome, (2) outcomes that are unexpected, called reward prediction errors (PEs), or (3) cues associated with uncertain outcomes. Here, we measure brain responses to different forms of salience in the context of a passive PE-signaling task, testing whether patients with schizophrenia (SZ) showed aberrant signaling of particular types of salience. We acquired event-related MRI data from 29 SZ patients and 23 controls during the performance of a passive outcome prediction task. Across groups, we found that the anterior insula and posterior parietal cortices were activated to multiple different types of salience, including PE magnitude and heightened levels of uncertainty. However, BOLD activation to salient events was not significantly different between patients and controls in many regions, including the insula, posterior parietal cortices, and default mode network nodes. Such results suggest that deficiencies in salience processing in SZ may not result from an impaired ability to signal salience per se, but instead the ability to use such signals to guide future actions. Notably, no between-group differences were observed in BOLD signal changes associated with PE-signaling in the striatum. However, positive symptom severity was found to significantly correlate with the magnitudes of salience contrasts in default mode network nodes. Our results suggest that, in an observational environment, SZ patients may show an intact ability to activate striatal and cortical regions to rewarding and non-rewarding salient events. Furthermore, reduced deactivation of a hypothesized default mode network node for SZ participants with high levels of positive symptoms, following salient events, point to abnormalities in interactions of the salience network with other brain networks, and their potential importance to positive symptoms.