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Right fronto-limbic atrophy is associated with reduced empathy in refractory unilateral mesial temporal lobe epilepsy


Toller, Gianina; Adhimoolam, Babu; Rankin, Katherine P; Huppertz, Hans-Jürgen; Kurthen, Martin; Jokeit, Hennric (2015). Right fronto-limbic atrophy is associated with reduced empathy in refractory unilateral mesial temporal lobe epilepsy. Neuropsychologia, 78:80-87.

Abstract

Refractory mesial temporal lobe epilepsy (MTLE) is the most frequent focal epilepsy and is often accompanied by deficits in social cognition including emotion recognition, theory of mind, and empathy. Consistent with the neuronal networks that are crucial for normal social-cognitive processing, these impairments have been associated with functional changes in fronto-temporal regions. However, although atrophy in unilateral MTLE also affects regions of the temporal and frontal lobes that underlie social cognition, little is known about the structural correlates of social-cognitive deficits in refractory MTLE. In the present study, a psychometrically validated empathy questionnaire was combined with whole-brain voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to investigate the relationship between self-reported affective and cognitive empathy and gray matter volume in 55 subjects (13 patients with right MTLE, 9 patients with left MTLE, and 33 healthy controls). Consistent with the brain regions underlying social cognition, our results show that lower affective and cognitive empathy was associated with smaller volume in predominantly right fronto-limbic regions, including the right hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, thalamus, fusiform gyrus, inferior temporal gyrus, dorsomedial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices, and in the bilateral midbrain. The only region that was associated with both affective and cognitive empathy was the right mesial temporal lobe. These findings indicate that patients with right MTLE are at increased risk for reduced empathy towards others' internal states and they shed new light on the structural correlates of impaired social cognition frequently accompanying refractory MTLE. In line with previous evidence from patients with neurodegenerative disease and stroke, the present study suggests that empathy depends upon the integrity of right fronto-limbic and brainstem regions and highlights the importance of the right mesial temporal lobe and midbrain structures for human empathy.

Abstract

Refractory mesial temporal lobe epilepsy (MTLE) is the most frequent focal epilepsy and is often accompanied by deficits in social cognition including emotion recognition, theory of mind, and empathy. Consistent with the neuronal networks that are crucial for normal social-cognitive processing, these impairments have been associated with functional changes in fronto-temporal regions. However, although atrophy in unilateral MTLE also affects regions of the temporal and frontal lobes that underlie social cognition, little is known about the structural correlates of social-cognitive deficits in refractory MTLE. In the present study, a psychometrically validated empathy questionnaire was combined with whole-brain voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to investigate the relationship between self-reported affective and cognitive empathy and gray matter volume in 55 subjects (13 patients with right MTLE, 9 patients with left MTLE, and 33 healthy controls). Consistent with the brain regions underlying social cognition, our results show that lower affective and cognitive empathy was associated with smaller volume in predominantly right fronto-limbic regions, including the right hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, thalamus, fusiform gyrus, inferior temporal gyrus, dorsomedial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices, and in the bilateral midbrain. The only region that was associated with both affective and cognitive empathy was the right mesial temporal lobe. These findings indicate that patients with right MTLE are at increased risk for reduced empathy towards others' internal states and they shed new light on the structural correlates of impaired social cognition frequently accompanying refractory MTLE. In line with previous evidence from patients with neurodegenerative disease and stroke, the present study suggests that empathy depends upon the integrity of right fronto-limbic and brainstem regions and highlights the importance of the right mesial temporal lobe and midbrain structures for human empathy.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Uncontrolled Keywords:DoktoratPsych Erstautor
Date:November 2015
Deposited On:22 Jun 2016 10:14
Last Modified:08 Dec 2017 19:45
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0028-3932
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.09.010
PubMed ID:26363299

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