The ability to perceive the motion of biological objects, such as faces, is a critical component of daily function and correlates with the ability to successfully navigate social situations (social cognition). Deficits in motion perception in schizophrenia were first demonstrated about 20 years ago but remain understudied, especially in the early, potentially prodromal, stages of the illness. The authors examined the neural bases of visual sensory processing impairments, including motion, in patients with schizophrenia (N=63) and attenuated psychosis (clinical high risk) (N=32) compared with age-matched healthy control subjects (N=67).
Electrophysiological recordings during stimulus and motion processing were analyzed using oscillatory (time frequency) approaches that differentiated motion-onset-evoked activity from stimulus-onset sensory-evoked responses. These were compared with functional MRI (fMRI) measures of motion processing.
Significant deficits in motion processing were observed across the two patient groups, and these deficits predicted impairments in both face-emotion recognition and cognitive function. In contrast to motion processing, sensory-evoked stimulus-onset responses were intact in patients with attenuated psychosis, and, further, the relative deficit in motion-onset responses compared with stimulus-onset responses predicted transition to schizophrenia. In patients with schizophrenia, motion detection deficits mapped to impaired activation in motion-sensitive visual cortex during fMRI. Additional visual impairments in patients with schizophrenia, not present in patients with attenuated psychosis, implicated other visual regions, including the middle occipital gyrus and pulvinar thalamic nucleus.
The study findings emphasize the importance of sensory-level visual dysfunction in the etiology of schizophrenia and in the personal experience of individuals with the disorder and demonstrate that motion-processing deficits may predate illness onset and contribute to impaired function even in patients with attenuated psychosis.