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Structural connections support emotional connections: uncinate fasciculus microstructure is related to the ability to decode facial emotion expressions

Coad, Bethany ORCID:, Postans, Mark, Hodgetts, Carl ORCID:, Muhlert, Nils ORCID:, Graham, Kim ORCID: and Lawrence, Andrew ORCID: 2020. Structural connections support emotional connections: uncinate fasciculus microstructure is related to the ability to decode facial emotion expressions. Neuropsychologia 145 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.11.006

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The Uncinate Fasciculus (UF) is an association fibre tract connecting regions in the frontal and anterior temporal lobes. UF disruption is seen in several disorders associated with impaired social behaviour, but its functional role is unclear. Here we set out to test the hypothesis that the UF is important for facial expression processing, an ability fundamental to adaptive social behaviour. In two separate experiments in healthy adults, we used high-angular resolution diffusion-weighted imaging (HARDI) and constrained spherical deconvolution (CSD) tractography to virtually dissect the UF, plus a control tract (the corticospinal tract (CST)), and quantify, via tissue fractional anisotropy (FAT), individual differences in tract microstructure. In Experiment 1, participants completed the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Task (RMET), a well-validated assay of facial expression decoding. In Experiment 2, a different set of participants completed the RMET, plus an odd-emotion-out task of facial emotion discrimination. In both experiments, participants also completed a control odd-identity-out facial identity discrimination task. In Experiment 1, FAT of the right-, but not the left-hemisphere, UF was significantly correlated with performance on the RMET task, specifically for emotional, but not neutral expressions. UF FAT was not significantly correlated with facial identity discrimination performance. In Experiment 2, FA of the right-, but not left-hemisphere, UF was again significantly correlated with performance on emotional items from the RMET, together with performance on the facial emotion discrimination task. Again, no significant association was found between UF FAT and facial identity discrimination performance. Our findings highlight the contribution of right-hemisphere UF microstructure to inter-individual variability in the ability to decode facial emotion expressions, and may explain why disruption of this pathway affects social behaviour.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC)
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 0028-3932
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 29 November 2017
Date of Acceptance: 4 November 2017
Last Modified: 06 May 2023 20:35

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