August 1994

Neuropsychological Functioning in Siblings Discordant for Schizophrenia and Healthy Volunteers

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Psychology (Dr Cannon and Ms Zorrilla) and Psychiatry (Drs Cannon, Shtasel, R. E. Gur, R. C. Gur, Moberg, and Price and Mss Zorrilla and Marco), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1994;51(8):651-661. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1994.03950080063009

Objective:  To determine whether schizophrenics and their nonschizophrenic siblings have a similar pattern of neuropsychological deficit when compared with normal controls.

Design and Participants:  Fifteen probands with schizophrenia, 16 of their nonschizophrenic siblings, and 31 unrelated, demographically balanced, normal individuals underwent evaluation with a comprehensive neuropsychological test battery. All subjects were screened for history of head injury, neurologic illness, major medical conditions, substance use, and axis I psychiatric disorders other than schizophrenia. Probands underwent evaluation twice: once at intake when half had never received neuroleptic medication and the other half had received none for a minimum of 2 weeks, and again at the 2- to 4-week follow-up, after stabilization with neuroleptic medications.

Results:  Both schizophrenics and their nonschizophrenic siblings were impaired neuropsychologically compared with normal controls, with the nonschizophrenic siblings' performance intermediate between that of the schizophrenic siblings and the normal controls on all measures of functioning. The shapes of the deficit profiles of schizophrenic patients and their siblings were similar; in patients, verbal memory, abstraction, attention, and language functions were significantly more affected compared with spatial abilities, spatial memory, and sensorymotor functions, with a nonsignificant trend in the same direction in siblings. Cognitive functioning in patients was found to be stable across changes in medication status and clinical state. Four fifths of patients obtained more deviant scores than their nonschizophrenic siblings. Among the sibling group, those with probable and certain diagnoses of schizotypal personality disorder were more impaired compared with those without schizophrenia-spectrum symptoms.

Conclusion:  These results support the hypothesis that impaired information processing aggregates in the family members of schizophrenics and may serve as an indicator of genetic vulnerability to the disorder. Further work is needed to establish whether particular areas of functioning are selectively impaired in relatives and to determine whether the performance deficits are mediated by structural and/or metabolic disturbances in specific brain regions.