Background The present study examined the association between perinatal obstetric complications and executive dysfunction in early-onset schizophrenia (EOS), compared to healthy controls. Higher incidences of obstetric complications and more severe executive dysfunctions characterize EOS. Research shows extensive brain maturation in newborns, suggesting them to be particularly vulnerable for perinatal insults. Executive function is mainly mediated by the prefrontal cortex, an area that matures last during pregnancy. Thus, exposure to perinatal complications may influence executive dysfunction in EOS. Methods The participants were 19 EOS patients and 54 healthy controls. Executive function was assessed with the D-KEFS Color Word Interference Test and the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test. Information on perinatal obstetric complications and Apgar 5-min scores were obtained from the Norwegian Medical Birth Registry. Associations between perinatal conditions and executive function were studied using stepwise regression analyses. Results Perinatal complications, and especially shorter gestational lengths, were significantly associated with significant executive dysfunctions in EOS. Perinatal complications did not affect executive function among healthy controls. A significant relationship between lower Apgar 5-min scores and executive dysfunction was found among both EOS patients and healthy controls. Conclusions Exposure to perinatal complications, and particularly a shorter gestational length, was associated with increased executive dysfunction in EOS. Exposed healthy controls did not exhibit similar executive difficulties, suggesting that the EOS patients seemed especially vulnerable for executive deficits due to perinatal insults. The findings indicate that EOS youths learn more slowly and experience more difficulty with problem-solving, which carry important implications for clinical practice. Lower Apgar 5-min scores were associated with executive dysfunction in both groups. Low Apgar score at 5 min may therefore be an important early indicator of executive difficulties among adolescents, independent of diagnosis.
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