22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22qDS) represents one of the largest known genetic risk factors for schizophrenia. Approximately 30% of individuals with 22qDS develop psychotic illness in adolescence or young adulthood. Given that deficits in social cognition are increasingly viewed as a central aspect of idiopathic schizophrenia, we sought to investigate abilities in this domain as a predictor of psychotic symptoms in 22qDS participants. We assessed multiple domains of social and non-social cognition in 22qDS youth to: 1) characterize performance across these domains in 22qDS, and identify whether 22qDS participants fail to show expected patterns of age-related improvements on these tasks; and 2) determine whether social cognition better predicts positive and negative symptoms than does non-social cognition. Task domains assessed were: emotion recognition and differentiation, Theory of Mind (ToM), verbal knowledge, visuospatial skills, working memory, and processing speed. Positive and negative symptoms were measured using scores obtained from the Structured Interview for Prodromal Symptoms (SIPS). 22qDS participants (N = 31, mean age: 15.9) showed the largest impairment, relative to healthy controls (N = 31, mean age: 15.6), on measures of ToM and processing speed. In contrast to controls, 22qDS participants did not show age-related improvements on measures of working memory and verbal knowledge. Notably, ToM performance was the best predictor of positive symptoms in 22qDS, accounting for 39% of the variance in symptom severity. Processing speed emerged as the best predictor of negative symptoms, accounting for 37% of the variance in symptoms. Given that ToM was a robust predictor of positive symptoms in our sample, these findings suggest that social cognition may be a valuable intermediate trait for predicting the development of psychosis.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Funding for this study was provided by the National Institute of Mental Health grant RO1 MH085953 (CEB). Funding was also provided by the NIH/NIMH 5T32MH073526-05 (Training Grant in Neurobehavioral Genetics) and Heyler Meyer Research Award given to Ms. Jalbrzikowski. These funding sources had no further role in the study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; and in the decision to submit the paper for publication.
- 22q11.2 microdeletion syndrome
- Social cognition