Background: Working memory (WM) impairment in schizophrenia substantially impacts functional outcome. Although the dorsolateral pFC has been implicated in such impairment, a more comprehensive examination of brain networks comprising pFC is warranted. The present research used a whole-brain, multi-experiment analysis to delineate task-related networks comprising pFC. Activity was examined in schizophrenia patients across a variety of cognitive demands. Methods: One hundred schizophrenia patients and 102 healthy controls completed one of four fMRI tasks: a Sternberg verbal WM task, a visuospatial WM task, a Stroop set-switching task, and a thought generation task (TGT). Task-related networks were identified using multi-experiment constrained PCA for fMRI. Effects of task conditions and group differences were examined using mixed-model ANOVA on the task-related time series. Correlations between task performance and network engagement were also performed. Results: Four spatially and temporally distinct networks with pFC activation emerged and were postulated to subserve (1) internal attention, (2) auditory–motor attention, (3) motor responses, and (4) task energizing. The “energizing” network—engaged during WM encoding and diminished in patients—exhibited consistent trend relationships with WM capacity across different data sets. The dorsolateral-prefrontal-cortex-dominated “internal attention” network exhibited some evidence of hypoactivity in patients, but was not correlated with WM performance. Conclusions: Multi-experiment analysis allowed delineation of task-related, pFC-anchored networks across different cognitive constructs. Given the results with respect to the early-responding “energizing” network, WM deficits in schizophrenia may arise from disruption in the “energization” process described by Donald Stuss' model of pFC functions.

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