Ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the effects of task demand context on facial affect appraisal in schizophrenia

Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, USA.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 7.37). 03/2010; 6(1):66-73. DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsq018
Source: PubMed


Schizophrenia patients display impaired performance and brain activity during facial affect recognition. These impairments may reflect stimulus-driven perceptual decrements and evaluative processing abnormalities. We differentiated these two processes by contrasting responses to identical stimuli presented under different contexts. Seventeen healthy controls and 16 schizophrenia patients performed an fMRI facial affect detection task. Subjects identified an affective target presented amongst foils of differing emotions. We hypothesized that targeting affiliative emotions (happiness, sadness) would create a task demand context distinct from that generated when targeting threat emotions (anger, fear). We compared affiliative foil stimuli within a congruent affiliative context with identical stimuli presented in an incongruent threat context. Threat foils were analysed in the same manner. Controls activated right orbitofrontal cortex (OFC)/ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) more to affiliative foils in threat contexts than to identical stimuli within affiliative contexts. Patients displayed reduced OFC/VLPFC activation to all foils, and no activation modulation by context. This lack of context modulation coincided with a 2-fold decrement in foil detection efficiency. Task demands produce contextual effects during facial affective processing in regions activated during affect evaluation. In schizophrenia, reduced modulation of OFC/VLPFC by context coupled with reduced behavioural efficiency suggests impaired ventral prefrontal control mechanisms that optimize affective appraisal.

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    • "Overall, these differences may influence the observed patterns of neural activation. Support for this explanation comes from several lines of evidence: 1) findings of prefrontal cortex– amygdala modulation induced by linguistic vs. non-linguistic labelling of facial emotion in healthy participants (Hariri et al., 1999); 2) the widespread pattern of neurocognitive impairment in schizophrenia (Reichenberg and Harvey, 2007) and the range of cognitive processes recruited by the majority of facial emotion perception tasks (e.g., context processing, set shifting, working memory); 3) fMRI evidence of strategy use differences between schizophrenia patients and controls on tasks of facial emotion recognition (Fakra et al., 2008); and 4) direct evidence that the effects of context on emotional appraisal , driven by task demands, exert differential effects on neural activation in schizophrenia patients and controls (Leitman et al., 2011). "
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    • "A meta-analysis of brain function during facial emotion perception tasks with any emotions demonstrates that patients with SZ, relative to control subjects, showed lower activation of superior frontal gyrus, parahippocampal gyrus/amygdala and middle occipital gyrus (Li et al., 2010). In other fMRI studies, patients with SZ, compared to healthy subjects, showed blunted activation of right superior frontal gyrus during a facial valence discrimination task using sad faces (Li et al., 2012), lower activation of inferior frontal gyrus adjacent to orbitofrontal gyrus, anterior cingulate and cuneus during an emotional discrimination task using fear faces and inferior frontal gyrus, middle temporal gyrus, superior temporal gyrus and other areas during the task using angry faces (Habel et al., 2010) and blunted activation of orbitofrontal gyrus during a facial affect detection task using fear and anger faces as well as happy and sad faces (Leitman et al., 2011). The results of current study showing that patients with SZ showed blunted activation of superior frontal and orbitofrontal gyrus and middle temporal gyrus in response to emotional facial stimuli, further support previous findings. "
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