The ability to recognize facial emotion expressions, especially negative ones, is described to be impaired in Parkinson's disease (PD) patients. Previous neuroimaging work evaluating the neural substrate of facial emotion recognition (FER) in healthy and pathological subjects has mostly focused on functional changes. This study was designed to evaluate gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM) correlates of FER in a large sample of PD. Thirty-nine PD patients and 23 healthy controls (HC) were tested with the Ekman 60 test for FER and with magnetic resonance imaging. Effects of associated depressive symptoms were taken into account. In accordance with previous studies, PD patients performed significantly worse in recognizing sadness, anger and disgust. In PD patients, voxel-based morphometry analysis revealed areas of positive correlation between individual emotion recognition and GM volume: in the right orbitofrontal cortex, amygdala and postcentral gyrus and sadness identification; in the right occipital fusiform gyrus, ventral striatum and subgenual cortex and anger identification, and in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and disgust identification. WM analysis through diffusion tensor imaging revealed significant positive correlations between fractional anisotropy levels in the frontal portion of the right inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus and the performance in the identification of sadness. These findings shed light on the structural neural bases of the deficits presented by PD patients in this skill.
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