July 15, 2020
Weber, L.A. and Diaconescu, A.O. and Mathys, C. and Schmidt, A. and Kometer, M. and Vollenweider, F. and Stephan, K.E.


The auditory mismatch negativity (MMN) is significantly reduced in schizophrenia. Notably, a similar MMN reduction can be achieved with NMDA receptor (NMDAR) antagonists. Both phenomena have been interpreted as reflecting an impairment of predictive coding or, more generally, the “Bayesian brain” notion that the brain continuously updates a hierarchical model to infer the causes of its sensory inputs. Specifically, neurobiological interpretations of predictive coding view perceptual inference as an NMDAR-dependent process of minimizing hierarchical precision-weighted prediction errors (PEs), and disturbances of this putative process play a key role in hierarchical Bayesian theories of schizophrenia. Here, we provide empirical evidence for this theory, demonstrating the existence of multiple, hierarchically related PEs in a “roving MMN” paradigm. We applied a hierarchical Bayesian model to single-trial EEG data from healthy human volunteers of either sex who received the NMDAR antagonist S-ketamine in a placebo-controlled, double-blind, within-subject fashion. Using an unrestricted analysis of the entire time-sensor space, our trial-by-trial analysis indicated that low-level PEs (about stimulus transitions) are expressed early (102–207 ms poststimulus), while high-level PEs (about transition probability) are reflected by later components (152–199 and 215–277 ms) of single-trial responses. Furthermore, we find that ketamine significantly diminished the expression of high-level PE responses, implying that NMDAR antagonism disrupts the inference on abstract statistical regularities. Our findings suggest that NMDAR dysfunction impairs hierarchical Bayesian inference about the world’s statistical structure. Beyond the relevance of this finding for schizophrenia, our results illustrate the potential of computational single-trial analyses for assessing potential pathophysiological mechanisms.

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