Amygdalar Abnormalities and Social Cognitive Correlates in Youth at Clinical High Risk for Psychosis Open Access

Macdonald, Allison (2014)

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Structural brain abnormalities have been implicated in the pathogenesis of psychosis, however the extent to which these abnormalities represent neurodegenerative changes associated with illness duration or represent early vulnerability markers remains unclear. Accumulating evidence suggests that social cognitive impairments and dysfunction of the corresponding brain circuits may precede illness onset and be at the core of psychosis pathology. Thus, the nature and role of volumetric abnormalities in the amygdala and amygdala-prefrontal regions, as well as their clinical correlates are of great interest. The present study examined amygdalar and amgydala: prefrontal ratio volumes, and their association with facial emotion recognition deficits, in youth at clinical high risk for psychosis. Structural magnetic resonance imaging and the Penn-40 Facial Emotion Recognition Task were used to assess neuroanatomical volumes and facial emotion recognition performance in youth at clinical high risk (n=254) and controls (n=122). Results showed that CHR youth had larger amygdalar and amygdala:prefrontal ratio volumes, as well as worse facial emotion recognition performance, compared to controls. This observed enlargement was specific to the left amygdala and was more pronounced in CHR youth who had been medicated with antipsychotics. In the CHR - Unmedicated youth, the ratio volume was negatively associated with facial emotion recognition performance and was a better predictor than the amygdalar and prefrontal volumes alone. These finding suggest that enlarged amygdalar volumes may characterize the prodrome and that the balance between the size of the amygdala and prefrontal cortex may contribute to facial emotion recognition deficits.

Table of Contents


Amygdala as Candidate for Pathology ...2

Amygdalar Abnormalities in the Schizophrenia-Spectrum ...5

Facial Emotion Recognition in the Schizophrenia-Spectrum ...7

Amygdala:Prefrontal Ratios ...9

Present Study & Hypotheses ...11


Participants ...11

Measures ...12

Procedures ...15



Volumetric Brain Differences in CHR Youth ...19

Amygdalar Volume and FER Deficits in CHR Youth ...24

Strengths & Limitations ...25

Conclusions ...26





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