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J Abnorm Psychol. 2010 Aug;119(3):546-54. doi: 10.1037/a0019611.

Morphological alterations in the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala in unsuccessful psychopaths.

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  • 1Laboratory of Neuroimaging, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


Although deficits in several cortical and subcortical structures have been found in psychopaths, it remains unclear whether the neuropathology differs between subgroups of psychopaths (i.e., unsuccessful and successful). Using both traditional and novel image analyses methods, this study aims to reveal gross and subtle morphological changes in the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala in unsuccessful and successful psychopaths. Volumetric segmentation, cortical pattern matching, and surface-based mesh modeling methods were used to examine prefrontal and amygdala structures in 16 unsuccessful psychopaths, 10 successful psychopaths, and 27 controls. Significant reduced gray matter volume and cortical thickness/surface shape in the middle frontal, orbitofrontal cortex and the amygdala were found in unsuccessful psychopaths but not successful psychopaths, compared with controls. This study provides the first evidence of greater prefrontal and amygdala structural deficits in unsuccessful psychopaths, which may predispose them to poor behavioral control and impaired decision-making, thus making them more prone to convictions.

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