Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Anatomy and Cell Biology

Supervisor

Dr. Stefan Everling

Abstract

The World Health Organization has classified schizophrenia as one of the five leading causes of disability worldwide. Afflicting almost 1% of the world’s population, the disease’s greatest impact stems from its reduction in patients’ cognitive faculties. In order to better study these impairments, a pharmacological model has been developed using the NMDA antagonist, ketamine. This disease model successfully recreates the cognitive dysfunction of schizophrenia, allowing researchers to search for associated electrophysiological changes.

In this project I examined the behavioural and neurophysiological effects of ketamine on non-human primates performing the anti-saccade task. Success in this task requires a degree of cognitive control over behaviour and previous studies have described poor performance in both patients with schizophrenia and healthy controls administered ketamine. Our intracranial recordings are localized in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), a region associated with many of the cognitive functions impaired in schizophrenia.

The first study shows that neurons in the PFC exhibit selectivity for the task rule. This rule selectivity is lost after ketamine administration due to an indiscriminate increase in the neuronal firing rate. These changes were also associated with an increased error rate and longer reaction times. The second study shows that neurons in the PFC are also sensitive to the outcome of the trial, firing more for either correct or erroneous responses. Once again, selectivity is lost following ketamine administration and the neurons show increased, nonspecific activity. Lastly, we recorded the local field potential of the PFC and found changes in the oscillatory patterns during the anti-saccade task. Prior to ketamine there was a significantly stronger beta-band activity after correct trials compared to error trials, but this selective activity was lost due to an overall decrease in the outcome selective oscillatory events.

These findings show that ketamine’s effect on the PFC is one of selectivity reduction. Patients with schizophrenia have been shown to require increased PFC activity but only reach moderate performance levels in cognitive challenges. It is possible that their brains suffer the same changes highlighted in this research. Although the signals are still present in their PFC, they are being lost amongst the noise.


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