This study examined brain activities in people with Alzheimer's disease when viewing happy, sad, and fearful facial expressions of others. A functional magnetic resonance imaging and a voxel-based morphometry methodology together with a passive viewing of emotional faces paradigm were employed to compare the affective processing in 12 people with mild Alzheimer's disease and 12 matched controls. The main finding was that the clinical participants showed reduced activations in regions associated with the motor simulation system (the ventral premotor cortex) and in regions associated with emotional simulation-empathy (the anterior insula and adjacent frontal operculum). This regional decline in blood oxygen level-dependent signals appeared to be lateralized in the left hemisphere and was not related to any structural degeneration in the clinical participants. Furthermore, the regions that showed changes in neural activity differed for the 3 emotional facial expressions studied. Findings of our study indicate that neural changes in regions associated with the motor and emotional simulation systems might play an important role in the development of Alzheimer's disease.
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