Cortical thickness of neural substrates supporting cognitive empathy in individuals with schizophrenia

Suena H. Massey, Daniel Stern, Eva C. Alden, Julie E. Petersen, Derin J Cobia, Lei Wang, John G. Csernansky, Matthew Smith*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background Cognitive empathy is supported by the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), anterior mid-cingulate cortex (aMCC), insula (INS), supplementary motor area (SMA), right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), and precuneus (PREC). In healthy controls, cortical thickness in these regions has been linked to cognitive empathy. As cognitive empathy is impaired in schizophrenia, we examined whether reduced cortical thickness in these regions was associated with poorer cognitive empathy in this population. Methods 41 clinically-stable community-dwelling individuals with schizophrenia and 46 healthy controls group-matched on demographic variables completed self-report empathy questionnaires, a cognitive empathy task, and structural magnetic resonance imaging. We examined between-group differences in study variables using t-tests and analyses of variance. Next, we used Pearson correlations to evaluate the relationship between cognitive empathy and cortical thickness in the mPFC, IFG, aMCC, INS, SMA, TPJ, and PREC in both groups. Results Individuals with schizophrenia demonstrated cortical thinning in the IFG, INS, SMA, TPJ, and PREC (all p < 0.05) and impaired cognitive empathy across all measures (all p < 0.01) relative to controls. While cortical thickness in the mPFC, IFC, aMCC, and INS (all p < 0.05) was related to cognitive empathy in controls, we did not observe these relationships in individuals with schizophrenia (all p > 0.10). Conclusions Individuals with schizophrenia have reduced cortical thickness in empathy-related neural regions and significant impairments in cognitive empathy. Interestingly, cortical thickness was related to cognitive empathy in controls but not in the schizophrenia group. We discuss other mechanisms that may account for cognitive empathy impairment in schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-124
Number of pages6
JournalSchizophrenia Research
Volume179
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

Keywords

  • Cortical thickness
  • Empathy
  • Schizophrenia
  • Social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry

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