Spatial working memory function in twins with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder

Tiia Pirkola, Annamari Tuulio-Henriksson, David Glahn, Tuula Kieseppä, Jari Haukka, Jaakko Kaprio, Jouko Lönnqvist, Tyrone D. Cannon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Background: Family studies are in conflict as to whether schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have independent genetic etiologies. Given the relatively low prevalence (approximately 1%) of these disorders, the use of quantitative endophenotypic markers of genetic liability might provide a more sensitive strategy for evaluating their genetic overlap. We have previously demonstrated that spatial working memory deficits increase in a dose-dependent fashion with increasing genetic proximity to a proband among the unaffected co-twins of schizophrenic patients. Here, we evaluated whether such deficits might also mark genetic susceptibility to bipolar disorder. Methods: The Wechsler Memory Scale-Revised Visual Memory Span and Digit Span subtests were administered to 46 schizophrenic patients, 32 of their unaffected co-twins, 22 bipolar patients, 16 of their unaffected co-twins, and 100 control twins, representing unselectively nationwide twin samples. Results: Schizophrenic patients and their unaffected co-twins performed significantly worse than control subjects on the spatial working memory task, whereas only the schizophrenic patients performed significantly below the control subjects on the verbal working memory task. Neither bipolar patients nor their unaffected co-twins differed from control subjects on these measures. Conclusions: Our findings support the hypothesis that impairment in spatial working memory might effectively reflect an expression of genetic liability to schizophrenia but less clearly to bipolar disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)930-936
Number of pages7
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number12
StatePublished - 15 Dec 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Bipolar disorder
  • Endophenotypes
  • Neuropsychology
  • Schizophrenia
  • Twins
  • Working memory


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