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J Neurosci. 2009 Dec 2;29(48):15089-99. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0796-09.2009.

Damage to association fiber tracts impairs recognition of the facial expression of emotion.

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Laboratory of Brain Imaging and Cognitive Neuroscience, Department of Neurology, Division of Behavioral Neurology and Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City, Iowa 52242, USA.


An array of cortical and subcortical structures have been implicated in the recognition of emotion from facial expressions. It remains unknown how these regions communicate as parts of a system to achieve recognition, but white matter tracts are likely critical to this process. We hypothesized that (1) damage to white matter tracts would be associated with recognition impairment and (2) the degree of disconnection of association fiber tracts [inferior longitudinal fasciculus (ILF) and/or inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus (IFOF)] connecting the visual cortex with emotion-related regions would negatively correlate with recognition performance. One hundred three patients with focal, stable brain lesions mapped onto a reference brain were tested on their recognition of six basic emotional facial expressions. Association fiber tracts from a probabilistic atlas were coregistered to the reference brain. Parameters estimating disconnection were entered in a general linear model to predict emotion recognition impairments, accounting for lesion size and cortical damage. Damage associated with the right IFOF significantly predicted an overall facial emotion recognition impairment and specific impairments for sadness, anger, and fear. One subject had a pure white matter lesion in the location of the right IFOF and ILF. He presented specific, unequivocal emotion recognition impairments. Additional analysis suggested that impairment in fear recognition can result from damage to the IFOF and not the amygdala. Our findings demonstrate the key role of white matter association tracts in the recognition of the facial expression of emotion and identify specific tracts that may be most critical.

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