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Functional Connectivity Bias in the Prefrontal Cortex of Psychopaths

  • Oren Contreras-Rodríguez
    Affiliations
    Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute-IDIBELL (OC-R, CS-M, RH-R, JMM, NC), Psychiatry Department, Bellvitge University Hospital, CIBERSAM at Barcelona

    Department of Clinical Psychology and Institute of Neuroscience F. Olóriz (OC-R), University of Granada; MRI Research Unit (OC-R, JPu, BJH, JD, ML-S, DM), CRC Mar, Hospital del Mar at Barcelona, Spain
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  • Jesus Pujol
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to Jesus Pujol, Ph.D., MRI Research Unit, CRC Mar, Hospital del Mar 25-29 Passeig Marítim, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
    Affiliations
    Department of Clinical Psychology and Institute of Neuroscience F. Olóriz (OC-R), University of Granada; MRI Research Unit (OC-R, JPu, BJH, JD, ML-S, DM), CRC Mar, Hospital del Mar at Barcelona, Spain

    Centro Investigación Biomédica en Red de Salud Mental (JPu), CIBERSAM G21, Barcelona, Spain
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  • Iolanda Batalla
    Affiliations
    GSS (IB, VP, JPi), Hospital Santa Maria and Biomedical Research Institute at Lleida
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  • Ben J. Harrison
    Affiliations
    Department of Clinical Psychology and Institute of Neuroscience F. Olóriz (OC-R), University of Granada; MRI Research Unit (OC-R, JPu, BJH, JD, ML-S, DM), CRC Mar, Hospital del Mar at Barcelona, Spain

    Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre (BJH), Department of Psychiatry, The University of Melbourne and Melbourne Health, Melbourne, Australia
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  • Carles Soriano-Mas
    Affiliations
    Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute-IDIBELL (OC-R, CS-M, RH-R, JMM, NC), Psychiatry Department, Bellvitge University Hospital, CIBERSAM at Barcelona
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  • Joan Deus
    Affiliations
    Department of Clinical Psychology and Institute of Neuroscience F. Olóriz (OC-R), University of Granada; MRI Research Unit (OC-R, JPu, BJH, JD, ML-S, DM), CRC Mar, Hospital del Mar at Barcelona, Spain

    Department of Clinical and Health Psychology (JD), Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain
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  • Marina López-Solà
    Affiliations
    Department of Clinical Psychology and Institute of Neuroscience F. Olóriz (OC-R), University of Granada; MRI Research Unit (OC-R, JPu, BJH, JD, ML-S, DM), CRC Mar, Hospital del Mar at Barcelona, Spain

    Department of Psychology and Neuroscience (ML-S), University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado
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  • Dídac Macià
    Affiliations
    Department of Clinical Psychology and Institute of Neuroscience F. Olóriz (OC-R), University of Granada; MRI Research Unit (OC-R, JPu, BJH, JD, ML-S, DM), CRC Mar, Hospital del Mar at Barcelona, Spain
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  • Vanessa Pera
    Affiliations
    GSS (IB, VP, JPi), Hospital Santa Maria and Biomedical Research Institute at Lleida

    Child-Juvenile Mental Health Center of Sant Joan de Déu at Lleida (VP), Lleida, Spain
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  • Rosa Hernández-Ribas
    Affiliations
    Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute-IDIBELL (OC-R, CS-M, RH-R, JMM, NC), Psychiatry Department, Bellvitge University Hospital, CIBERSAM at Barcelona
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  • Josep Pifarré
    Affiliations
    GSS (IB, VP, JPi), Hospital Santa Maria and Biomedical Research Institute at Lleida
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  • José M. Menchón
    Affiliations
    Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute-IDIBELL (OC-R, CS-M, RH-R, JMM, NC), Psychiatry Department, Bellvitge University Hospital, CIBERSAM at Barcelona
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  • Narcís Cardoner
    Affiliations
    Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute-IDIBELL (OC-R, CS-M, RH-R, JMM, NC), Psychiatry Department, Bellvitge University Hospital, CIBERSAM at Barcelona
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      Abstract

      Background

      Psychopathy is characterized by a distinctive interpersonal style that combines callous-unemotional traits with inflexible and antisocial behavior. Traditional emotion-based perspectives link emotional impairment mostly to alterations in amygdala-ventromedial frontal circuits. However, these models alone cannot explain why individuals with psychopathy can regularly benefit from emotional information when placed on their focus of attention and why they are more resistant to interference from nonaffective contextual cues. The present study aimed to identify abnormal or distinctive functional links between and within emotional and cognitive brain systems in the psychopathic brain to characterize further the neural bases of psychopathy.

      Methods

      High-resolution anatomic magnetic resonance imaging with a functional sequence acquired in the resting state was used to assess 22 subjects with psychopathy and 22 control subjects. Anatomic and functional connectivity alterations were investigated first using a whole-brain analysis. Brain regions showing overlapping anatomic and functional changes were examined further using seed-based functional connectivity mapping.

      Results

      Subjects with psychopathy showed gray matter reduction involving prefrontal cortex, paralimbic, and limbic structures. Anatomic changes overlapped with areas showing increased degree of functional connectivity at the medial-dorsal frontal cortex. Subsequent functional seed-based connectivity mapping revealed a pattern of reduced functional connectivity of prefrontal areas with limbic-paralimbic structures and enhanced connectivity within the dorsal frontal lobe in subjects with psychopathy.

      Conclusions

      Our results suggest that a weakened link between emotional and cognitive domains in the psychopathic brain may combine with enhanced functional connections within frontal executive areas. The identified functional alterations are discussed in the context of potential contributors to the inflexible behavior displayed by individuals with psychopathy.

      Keywords

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