Background: People with schizophrenia have difficulty with emotion perception. Functional imaging studies indicate regional brain activation abnormalities in patients with schizophrenia when processing facial emotion. However, findings have not been entirely consistent across different studies.
Methods: Activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analyses were conducted to examine brain activation during facial emotion processing in patients with schizophrenia, controls, and patients compared with controls. Secondary meta-analyses were performed to assess the contribution of task design and illness chronicity to the results reported.
Results: When processing facial expressions of emotions, both patients with schizophrenia and healthy controls activated the bilateral amygdala and right fusiform gyri. However, the extent of activation in these regions was generally much more limited in the schizophrenia samples. When directly compared with controls, the extent of activation in bilateral amygdala, parahippocampal gyrus and fusiform gyrus, right superior frontal gyrus, and lentiform nucleus was significantly less in patients. Patients with schizophrenia, but not controls, activated the left insula. A relative failure to recruit the amygdala in patients occurred regardless of whether the task design was explicit or implicit, while differences in fusiform activation were evident in explicit, not implicit, tasks. Restricting the analysis to patients with chronic illness did not substantially change the results.
Conclusions: A marked underrecruitment of the amygdala, accompanied by a substantial limitation in activation throughout a ventral temporal-basal ganglia-prefrontal cortex "social brain" system may be central to the difficulties patients experience when processing facial emotion.