Corpus callosum abnormalities in psychopathic antisocial individuals

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2003 Nov;60(11):1134-42. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.60.11.1134.


Context: Psychopathic antisocial individuals have previously been characterized by abnormal interhemispheric processing and callosal functioning, but there have been no studies on the structural characteristics of the corpus callosum in this group.

Objectives: To assess whether (1) psychopathic individuals with antisocial personality disorder show structural and functional impairments in the corpus callosum, (2) group differences are mirrored by correlations between dimensional measures of callosal structure and psychopathy, (3) callosal abnormalities are associated with affective deficits, and (4) callosal abnormalities are independent of psychosocial deficits.

Design: Case-control study.

Setting: Community sample.

Participants: Fifteen men with antisocial personality disorder and high psychopathy scores and 25 matched controls, all from a larger sample of 83 community volunteers.

Main outcome measures: Structural magnetic resonance imaging measures of the corpus callosum (volume estimate of callosal white matter, thickness, length, and genu and splenium area), functional callosal measures (2 divided visual field tasks), electrodermal and cardiovascular activity during a social stressor, personality measures of affective and interpersonal deficits, and verbal and spatial ability.

Results: Psychopathic antisocial individuals compared with controls showed a 22.6% increase in estimated callosal white matter volume (P<.001), a 6.9% increase in callosal length (P =.002), a 15.3% reduction in callosal thickness (P =.04), and increased functional interhemispheric connectivity (P =.02). Correlational analyses in the larger unselected sample confirmed the association between antisocial personality and callosal structural abnormalities. Larger callosal volumes were associated with affective and interpersonal deficits, low autonomic stress reactivity, and low spatial ability. Callosal abnormalities were independent of psychosocial deficits.

Conclusions: Corpus callosum abnormalities in psychopathic antisocial individuals may reflect atypical neurodevelopmental processes involving an arrest of early axonal pruning or increased white matter myelination. These findings may help explain affective deficits and previous findings of abnormal interhemispheric transfer in psychopathic individuals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology
  • Agenesis of Corpus Callosum*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Corpus Callosum / pathology
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Enhancement*
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted*
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Mathematical Computing
  • Personality Assessment
  • Wechsler Scales