Social cognition is an important determinant of functional impairment in schizophrenia, but its relationship with the prefrontal functional abnormalities associated with the condition is still unclear. The present study aimed to explore the relationship between social cognition and prefrontal function in patients with schizophrenia using 52-channel near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). Twenty-six patients with schizophrenia and 26 age-, gender-, and intelligence quotient-matched healthy controls (HCs) participated in the study. Hemodynamic responses in the prefrontal and superior temporal cortical regions were assessed during a working memory task using NIRS. Social cognition was assessed using the Social Cognition Screening Questionnaire (SCSQ). The observed hemodynamic responses were significantly reduced in the lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC), the frontopolar cortex, and temporal regions in subjects with schizophrenia compared to HCs. Additionally, lateral PFC hemodynamic responses assessed during the working memory task demonstrated a strong positive correlation with the SCSQ theory of mind (ToM) subscale score even after controlling for working memory performance. These results suggest that ToM integrity is closely related to lateral PFC functional abnormalities found in patients with schizophrenia. In addition, this study provides evidence to suggest that NIRS could be used to identify biomarkers of social cognition function in subjects with schizophrenia.
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