Beyond hypofrontality: A quantitative meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging studies of working memory in schizophrenia

David C. Glahn, J. Daniel Ragland, Adir Abramoff, Jennifer Barrett, Angela R. Laird, Carrie E. Bearden, Dawn I. Velligan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

522 Scopus citations


Although there is considerable evidence that patients with schizophrenia fail to activate the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) to the degree seen in normal comparison subjects when performing working memory or executive tasks, hypofrontality may be coupled with relatively increased activity in other brain regions. However, most imaging studies of working memory in schizophrenia have focused on DLPFC activity. The goal of this work is to review functional neuroimaging studies that contrasted patients with schizophrenia and healthy comparison subjects during a prototypical working memory task, the n-back paradigm, to highlight areas of hyper- and hypoactivation in schizophrenia. We utilize a quantitative meta-analysis method to review 12 imaging studies where patients with schizophrenia were contrasted with healthy comparison subjects while performing the n-back paradigm. Although we find clear support for hypofrontality, we also document consistently increased activation in anterior cingulate and left frontal pole regions in patients with schizophrenia compared to that in controls. These data suggest that whereas reduced DLPFC activation is reported consistently in patients with schizophrenia relative to healthy subjects, abnormal activation patterns are not restricted to this region, raising questions as to whether the pathophysiological dysfunction in schizophrenia is specific to the DLPFC and about the relationship between impaired performance and aberrant activation patterns. The complex pattern of hyper- and hypoactivation consistently found across studies implies that rather than focusing on DLPFC dysregulation, researchers should consider the entire network of regions involved in a given task when making inferences about the biological mechanisms of schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-69
Number of pages10
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex
  • Executive functioning
  • Hypofrontality
  • N-back
  • Schizophrenia
  • Working memory


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