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The symptoms of schizophrenia related to the stability of attractor networks

We propose a hypothesis to account for the symptoms of schizophrenia in a statistical dynamical systems framework. We propose that the symptoms of schizophrenia are related to alterations in the depth of the basins of attraction, and the statistical effects of spiking neurons, which together influence the stability of cortical attractor neural networks. The cognitive symptoms such as distractibility, working memory deficits and poor attention could be caused by instability of persistent attractor states in prefrontal cortical networks. The negative symptoms, which include a lack of affect and reduction of emotions, may be related to the concomitant decreased firing rates in cortical areas such as the orbitofrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex that occur when the depth of the basins of attraction are reduced. The positive symptoms including delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations could arise because the basins of attraction are shallow in temporal lobe semantic memory networks. This would lead thoughts to move too freely around the attractor energy landscape, loosely from thought to weakly associated thought. These hypotheses were investigated in a model of a cortical attractor network based on integrate-and-fire neurons and synaptic currents activated by AMPA, NMDA and GABA receptors [1]. It was found that a decrease in the NMDA receptor conductance leads to a decrease in the stability of working memory states, an increase in distractibility, and lower firing rates, and can potentially account for both the cognitive and negative symptoms. We observed a flat energy landscape associated with the positive symptoms of schizophrenia when, in addition to a reduction in the NMDA conductance, the GABA conductance was reduced. This caused the dynamical system not only to switch between the high firing rate attractor states, but also sometimes to jump from spontaneous activity into one of the attractor states. The findings are consistent with the neurophysiological effects of dopamine, which can influence NMDA and GABA currents. In this approach we thus start with a statistical dynamical systems framework, and use this to help understand how some of the different symptoms of schizophrenia might arise.


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ML has been supported by the Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds.

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Correspondence to Marco Loh.

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Open Access This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Loh, M., Rolls, E.T. & Deco, G. The symptoms of schizophrenia related to the stability of attractor networks. BMC Neurosci 8 (Suppl 2), P142 (2007).

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