Impaired empathic abilities and reduced white matter integrity in schizophrenia

Junya Fujino, Hidehiko Takahashi, Jun Miyata, Genichi Sugihara, Manabu Kubota, Akihiko Sasamoto, Hironobu Fujiwara, Toshihiko Aso, Hidenao Fukuyama, Toshiya Murai
Progress in Neuro-psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry 2014 January 3, 48: 117-23
Empathic abilities are impaired in schizophrenia. Although the pathology of schizophrenia is thought to involve disrupted white matter integrity, the relationship between empathic disabilities and altered white matter in the disorder remains unclear. The present study tested associations between empathic disabilities and white matter integrity in order to investigate the neural basis of impaired empathy in schizophrenia. Sixty-nine patients with schizophrenia and 69 age-, gender-, handedness-, education- and IQ level-matched healthy controls underwent diffusion-weighted imaging. Empathic abilities were assessed using the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI). Using tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS), the associations between empathic abilities and white matter fractional anisotropy (FA), a measure of white matter integrity, were examined in the patient group within brain areas that showed a significant FA reduction compared with the controls. The patients with schizophrenia reported lower perspective taking and higher personal distress according to the IRI. The patients showed a significant FA reduction in bilateral deep white matter in the frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital lobes, a large portion of the corpus callosum, and the corona radiata. In schizophrenia patients, fantasy subscales positively correlated with FA in the left inferior fronto-occipital fasciculi and anterior thalamic radiation, and personal distress subscales negatively correlated with FA in the splenium of the corpus callosum. These results suggest that disrupted white matter integrity in these regions constitutes a pathology underpinning specific components of empathic disabilities in schizophrenia, highlighting that different aspects of empathic impairments in the disorder would have, at least partially, distinct neuropathological bases.

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