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Neuroanatomical Correlates of Recognizing Face Expressions in Mild Stages of Alzheimer's Disease.

Journal article
Authors Laurie-Anne Sapey-Triomphe
Rolf A. Heckemann
Nawele Boublay
Jean-Michel Dorey
Marie-Anne Hénaff
Isabelle Rouch
Catherine Padovan
Alexander Hammers
Pierre Krolak-Salmon
Published in PloS one
Volume 10
Issue 12
Pages e0143586
ISSN 1932-6203
Publication year 2015
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology
Pages e0143586
Language en
Subject categories Neurosciences


Early Alzheimer's disease can involve social disinvestment, possibly as a consequence of impairment of nonverbal communication skills. This study explores whether patients with Alzheimer's disease at the mild cognitive impairment or mild dementia stage have impaired recognition of emotions in facial expressions, and describes neuroanatomical correlates of emotion processing impairment. As part of the ongoing PACO study (personality, Alzheimer's disease and behaviour), 39 patients with Alzheimer's disease at the mild cognitive impairment or mild dementia stage and 39 matched controls completed tests involving discrimination of four basic emotions-happiness, fear, anger, and disgust-on photographs of faces. In patients, automatic volumetry of 83 brain regions was performed on structural magnetic resonance images using MAPER (multi-atlas propagation with enhanced registration). From the literature, we identified for each of the four basic emotions one brain region thought to be primarily associated with the function of recognizing that emotion. We hypothesized that the volume of each of these regions would be correlated with subjects' performance in recognizing the associated emotion. Patients showed deficits of basic emotion recognition, and these impairments were correlated with the volumes of the expected regions of interest. Unexpectedly, most of these correlations were negative: better emotional facial recognition was associated with lower brain volume. In particular, recognition of fear was negatively correlated with the volume of amygdala, disgust with pallidum, and happiness with fusiform gyrus. Recognition impairment in mild stages of Alzheimer's disease for a given emotion was thus associated with less visible atrophy of functionally responsible brain structures within the patient group. Possible explanations for this counterintuitive result include neuroinflammation, regional β-amyloid deposition, or transient overcompensation during early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

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