The effects of antipsychotic medications on eye movements in schizophrenia

Shelby Babin Fontenot, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Schizophrenia is the most prevalent mental disorder in the world, affecting approximately one percent of the population. Antipsychotic medications have successfully treated schizophrenic psychotic symptoms for years, however their positive effects on cognitive dysfunction, a core feature of schizophrenia, are inconclusive. Recent studies have shown that improved cognitive functioning is most often associated with the best long-term prognosis. Thus, clarifying the cognitive effects of commonly prescribed antipsychotic medications is pivotal to improving quality of life and long-term care of schizophrenic patients. Previous studies on cognitive dysfunction in schizophrenia utilized complex neuropsychological tasks requiring many intact areas of the brain for proper completion. These complexities make interpretation of acquired data difficult. Recently, eye movements have been identified as a more effective surrogate for investigating cognitive functioning. Eye movements are easily measured, require known discrete areas of the brain for processing, and are ubiquitous. They influence what we attend to and process in the brain; thus they are a pivotal aspect of cognitive functioning. This study sought to examine the effects of antipsychotic medications on eye movements in forty-two schizophrenic patients. These patients were divided equally into the three tested medication groups: haloperidol, olanzapine, and aripiprazole. To the extent possible, these groups were further separated into task-impaired and task-nonimpaired subgroups, and again analyzed. Clinical and neuropsychological scales were administered to assess clinical and eye movement changes. The results of this study found the olanzapine-treated group exhibited superior cognitive effects to the aripiprazole-treated group, who was superior to the haloperidol-treated group. Furthermore, upon subdivision into cognitively impaired and nonimpaired subgroups, both olanzapine-treated subgroups continued to show improvement, while only the aripiprazole-treated impaired subgroup showed cognitive benefit. The haloperidol-treated nonimpaired subgroup actually demonstrated worsening effects. Interestingly, despite the cognitive decline of some subgroups, the clinical assessment results indicated virtually all subgroups exhibited significant clinical improvement. Hence, careful selection of an antipsychotic medication is crucial, as this study shows some treatments may help whereas others may hinder cognitive functioning in schizophrenia. The results of this study are extremely important given the relationship between cognitive improvement and long-term prognosis in schizophrenia. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, these results indicate that clinical improvement is not necessarily indicative of cognitive improvement.

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Recommended Citation

Fontenot, Shelby Babin, "The effects of antipsychotic medications on eye movements in schizophrenia" (2009). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3353990.