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Scientists Link Emotional Processing Deficits with White Matter Damage After TBI

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Dr Genova is a senior research scientist in Neuropsychology & Neuroscience Research at Kessler Foundation.

Dr Genova is a senior research scientist in Neuropsychology & Neuroscience Research at Kessler Foundation.

Researchers from Kessler Foundation, West Orange, NJ, have found a link between the inability to recognize emotions expressed by facial features and the white matter damage that occurs after traumatic brain injury (TBI), according to a news release from Kessler Foundation. Their findings, published in a recent issue of Social Neuroscience, indicate that there is a pattern of white matter damage and gray matter atrophy associated with this inability to recognize facial affect (emotion).

In the study, “Facial Affect Recognition Linked to Damage in Specific White Matter Tracts in Traumatic Brain Injury,” lead author Helen Genova, PhD, senior research scientist in Neurophysiology & Neuroscience Research at Kessler Foundation, and colleagues compared 42 people with moderate to severe TBI with 23 control subjects for their ability to identify six emotions—happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and shame—when shown facial photographs, known as the Facial Emotion Identification Test (FEIT). According to the release, their responses were correlated with neuroimaging changes on diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), which shows the integrity of white matter tracts in the brain.

According to the study, the subjects with TBI performed more poorly on the FEIT test than the controls did, and this poor performance was associated with lower values for white matter integrity and volume of gray matter as seen on DTI.

“Using neuroimaging, we found that changes in white and gray matter contributed to failure to accurately identify the emotions expressed in the facial photographs in FEIT,” Genova says. “This deficit may adversely affect relationships, hindering social functioning in the home, the community, and the workplace. To address this problem, more research needs to focus on deficits in emotional processing, their impact on social functioning, and the added dimension of objective findings on neuroimaging.”

Individuals with TBI experience deficits in emotional processing and social cognition, according to the release. Little is known about the underlying mechanisms for this deficit, which may contribute to social dysfunction. Understanding the cause, as well as the manifestations, will support the development of effective interventions, the release notes.

[Photo Credit: Kessler Foundation]

[Source(s): EurekAlert, Kessler Foundation]