Neural processing of socioemotional content in conduct-disordered juvenile offenders with limited prosocial emotions

M Aghajani, Eduard Klapwijk, H Andershed, KA Fanti, NJA van der Wee, RRJM Vermeiren, OF Colins

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4 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Reflecting evidence on Callous-Unemotional (CU) traits (e.g., lack of empathy and guilt, shallow affect), the DSM-5 added a categorical CU-based specifier for Conduct Disorder (CD), labeled ‘with Limited Prosocial Emotions’ (LPE). Theory and prior work suggest that CD youths with and without LPE will likely differ in neural processing of negative socioemotional content. This proposition, however, is mainly derived from studies employing related, yet distinct, operationalizations of CU traits (e.g., dimensional measure/median split/top quartile), thus precluding direct examination of LPE-specific neurocognitive deficits. Methods: Employing a DSM-5 informed LPE proxy, neural processing of recognizing and resonating negative socioemotional content (angry and fearful faces) was therefore examined here among CD offenders with LPE (CD/LPE+; N = 19), relative to CD offenders without LPE (CD/LPE-; N = 31) and healthy controls (HC; N = 31). Results: Relative to HC and CD/LPE- youths and according to a linearly increasing trend (CD/LPE- < HC < CD/LPE+), CD/LPE+ youths exhibited hyperactivity within dorsolateral, dorsomedial, and ventromedial prefrontal regions during both emotion recognition and resonance. During emotion resonance, CD/LPE+ youths additionally showed increased activity within the posterior cingulate and precuneal cortices in comparison to HC and CD/LPE- youths, which again followed a linearly increasing trend (CD/LPE- < HC < CD/LPE+). These effects moreover seemed specific to the LPE specifier, when compared to a commonly employed method for CU-based grouping in CD (i.e., median split on CU scores). Conclusions: These data cautiously suggest that CD/LPE+ youths may exhibit an over-reliance on cortical neurocognitive systems when explicitly processing negative socioemotional information, which could have adverse downstream effects on relevant socioemotional functions. The findings thus seem to provide novel, yet preliminary, clues on the neurocognitive profile of CD/LPE+, and additionally highlight the potential scientific utility of the LPE specifier.

Original languageEnglish
Article number 110045
JournalProgress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Grant support: Part of this research was supported by a grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research - National Initiative Brain and Cognition (NWO-NIHC, project number 056-23-011 ), by a Leiden Institute Brain and Cognition starting grant to Olivier F. Colins, and an Örebro University grant to Moji Aghajani.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors


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