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PLoS One. 2014 Nov 24;9(11):e113845. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113845. eCollection 2014.

Anterior insula GABA levels correlate with emotional aspects of empathy: a proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy study.

Author information

1
Shanghai Key Laboratory of Magnetic Resonance and Department of Physics, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China.
2
School of Psychology and Cognitive Science, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China.
3
Shanghai Key Laboratory of Magnetic Resonance and Department of Physics, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China; School of Psychology and Cognitive Science, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Empathy is a multidimensional construct referring to the capacity to understand and share the emotional and affective states of another person. Cerebral γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-ergic levels are associated with a variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders. However, the role of the GABA system in different dimensions of empathy has not been investigated.

MATERIALS AND METHODS:

Thirty-two right-handed healthy volunteers took part in this study. We used proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy to determine GABA concentrations in the anterior insula (AI) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and to examine the relationship between the GABA concentrations and the subcomponents of empathy evaluated by the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI).

RESULT:

Pearson correlation analyses (two-tailed) showed that AI GABA was significantly associated with the empathy concern score (r = 0.584, p<0.05) and the personal distress score (r = 0.538, p<0.05) but not significantly associated with other empathy subscales. No significant correlation was found between ACC GABA and empathy subscores.

CONCLUSION:

Left AI GABA was positively correlated with the emotional aspects of empathy. These preliminary findings call into question whether AI GABA alterations might predict empathy dysfunction in major psychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, which have been described as deficits in emotional empathic abilities.

PMID:
25419976
PMCID:
PMC4242717
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0113845
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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