Based on animal data, NMDA receptor hypofunction has been suggested as a model for positive symptoms in schizophrenia. NMDA receptor hypofunction affects several corticolimbic brain regions, of which the posterior cingulate seems to be the most sensitive. However, empirical support for a crucial role of posterior cingulate NMDA hypofunction in the pathophysiology of positive symptoms is still missing in humans. We therefore conducted an fMRI study using the NMDA antagonist ketamine in healthy human subjects during episodic memory retrieval, which is supposed to activate the posterior cingulate. We investigated 16 healthy subjects which were assigned to either placebo (n=7; saline) or ketamine (n=9; 0.6 mg/kg/h) group in a double-blind study design. All subjects received their infusion while performing an episodic memory retrieval task in the scanner. Immediately after the fMRI session, psychopathological effects of ketamine were measured using the Altered States of Consciousness Questionnaire. The placebo group showed BOLD signal increases in the posterior and anterior cingulate during retrieval. Signal increases were significantly lower in the ketamine group. Lower signal increases in the posterior cingulate correlated significantly with positive (i.e. psychosis-like) symptoms induced by ketamine. The present study for the first time demonstrates a relationship between NMDA receptors, posterior cingulate and positive (i.e. psychosis-like) symptoms in humans. Confirming findings from animal studies, it supports the hypothesis of a pathophysiological role of NMDA receptor hypofunction in the posterior cingulate in schizophrenia.
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