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From social neurons to social cognition: implications for schizophrenia research

Author(s): Martin Brüne | Andreas Ebert

Journal: Düşünen Adam : Journal of Psychiatry and Neurological Sciences
ISSN 1018-8681

Volume: 24;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 58;
Date: 2011;
Original page

Keywords: Schizophrenia | cognition | metacognitive | metacognition | theory of mind

The term schizophrenia embraces a group of disorders that are characterised by a heterogeneous set of symptoms. Poor social cognition, including metacognitive dysfunction is present across all schizophrenia phenotypes, accounting for a large proportion of patients’ social impairment. Metacognitive functioning is subserved by a distinct neural network of widely distributed regions of the brain, foremost areas of the prefrontal cortex, as well as, areas in the temporal and parietal lobes. While dysfunction of the metacognition neural network in schizophrenia has been well documented, the underlying neuronal correlates are only partially understood. This review focuses on two distinct cell populations that evolved during primate evolution: The mirror neurons, and the von Economo neurons. Empirical evidence suggests that these cell types have a special role in social cognition and metacognitive functioning. However, only recent studies have addressed their potential role in schizophrenia. In spite of current paucity of research on mirror neuron function in schizophrenia, it seems plausible to suggest that their functional properties are compromised, and contribute to aberrant imitation behaviour in schizophrenia. The potential impact of von Economo neurons in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia is even less clear, but future research may help to better understand the nature of this devastating group of disorders.
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