22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22q11DS) is a recurrent genetic mutation that is highly penetrant for psychosis. Behavioral research suggests that 22q11DS patients exhibit a characteristic neurocognitive phenotype that includes differential impairment in spatial working memory (WM). Notably, spatial WM has also been proposed as an endophenotype for idiopathic psychotic disorder, yet little is known about the neurobiological substrates of WM in 22q11DS. In order to investigate the neural systems engaged during spatial WM in 22q11DS patients, we collected functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data while 41 participants (16 22q11DS patients, 25 demographically matched controls) performed a spatial capacity WM task that included manipulations of delay length and load level. Relative to controls, 22q11DS patients showed reduced neural activation during task performance in the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) and superior frontal sulcus (SFS). In addition, the typical increases in neural activity within spatial WM-relevant regions with greater memory load were not observed in 22q11DS. We further investigated whether neural dysfunction during WM was associated with behavioral WM performance, assessed via the University of Maryland letter-number sequencing (LNS) task, and positive psychotic symptoms, assessed via the Structured Interview for Prodromal Syndromes (SIPS), in 22q11DS patients. WM load activity within IPS and SFS was positively correlated with LNS task performance; moreover, WM load activity within IPS was inversely correlated with the severity of unusual thought content and delusional ideas, indicating that decreased recruitment of working memory-associated neural circuitry is associated with more severe positive symptoms. These results suggest that 22q11DS patients show reduced neural recruitment of brain regions critical for spatial WM function, which may be related to characteristic behavioral manifestations of the disorder.
School of Medicine