Speed of facial affect intensity recognition as an endophenotype of first-episode psychosis and associated limbic-cortical grey matter systems

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Psychotic disorders are highly heritable such that the unaffected relatives of patients may manifest characteristics, or endophenotypes, that are more closely related to risk genes than the overt clinical condition. Facial affect processing is dependent on a distributed cortico-limbic network that is disrupted in psychosis. This study assessed facial affect processing and related brain structure as a candidate endophenotype of first-episode psychosis (FEP).


Three samples comprising 30 FEP patients, 30 of their first-degree relatives and 31 unrelated healthy controls underwent assessment of facial affect processing and structural magnetic resonance imaging (sMRI) data. Multivariate analysis (partial least squares, PLS) was used to identify a grey matter (GM) system in which anatomical variation was associated with variation in facial affect processing speed.


The groups did not differ in their accuracy of facial affect intensity rating but differed significantly in speed of response, with controls responding faster than relatives, who responded faster than patients. Within the control group, variation in speed of affect processing was significantly associated with variation of GM density in amygdala, lateral temporal cortex, frontal cortex and cerebellum. However, this association between cortico-limbic GM density and speed of facial affect processing was absent in patients and their relatives.


Speed of facial affect processing presents as a candidate endophenotype of FEP. The normal association between speed of facial affect processing and cortico-limbic GM variation was disrupted in FEP patients and their relatives.

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