Increased amygdala activation during automatic processing of facial emotion in schizophrenia

Astrid Veronika Rauch, Maraike Reker, Patricia Ohrmann, Anya Pedersen, Jochen Bauer, Udo Dannlowski, Liv Harding, Katja Koelkebeck, Carsten Konrad, Harald Kugel, Volker Arolt, Walter Heindel, Thomas Suslow
Psychiatry Research 2010 June 30, 182 (3): 200-6
Schizophrenia patients show abnormalities in the processing of facial emotion. The amygdala is a central part of a brain network that is involved in the perception of facial emotions. Previous functional neuroimaging studies on the perception of facial emotion in schizophrenia have focused almost exclusively on controlled processing. In the present study, we investigated the automatic responsivity of the amygdala to emotional faces in schizophrenia and its relationship to clinical symptomatology by applying an affective priming task. 3-T fMRI was utilized to examine amygdala responses to sad and happy faces masked by neutral faces in 12 schizophrenia patients and 12 healthy controls. The Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) was administered to assess current symptomatology. Schizophrenia patients exhibited greater automatic amygdala responses to sad and happy faces relative to controls. Amygdala responses to masked sad and happy expressions were positively correlated with the negative subscale of the PANSS. Schizophrenia patients appear to be characterized by amygdalar hyperresponsiveness to negative and positive facial expressions on an automatic processing level. Heightened automatic amygdala responsivity could be involved in the development and maintenance of negative symptoms in schizophrenia.

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