Emotional face recognition deficits and medication effects in pre-manifest through stage-II Huntington's disease

Psychiatry Res. 2013 May 15;207(1-2):118-26. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2012.09.022. Epub 2012 Oct 7.


Facial emotion recognition impairments have been reported in Huntington's disease (HD). However, the nature of the impairments across the spectrum of HD remains unclear. We report on emotion recognition data from 344 participants comprising premanifest HD (PreHD) and early HD patients, and controls. In a test of recognition of facial emotions, we examined responses to six basic emotional expressions and neutral expressions. In addition, and within the early HD sample, we tested for differences on emotion recognition performance between those 'on' vs. 'off' neuroleptic or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications. The PreHD groups showed significant (p<0.05) impaired recognition, compared to controls, on fearful, angry and surprised faces; whereas the early HD groups were significantly impaired across all emotions including neutral expressions. In early HD, neuroleptic use was associated with worse facial emotion recognition, whereas SSRI use was associated with better facial emotion recognition. The findings suggest that emotion recognition impairments exist across the HD spectrum, but are relatively more widespread in manifest HD than in the premanifest period. Commonly prescribed medications to treat HD-related symptoms also appear to affect emotion recognition. These findings have important implications for interpersonal communication and medication usage in HD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antipsychotic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Emotions / drug effects
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Face
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease / complications*
  • Huntington Disease / drug therapy*
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / drug therapy
  • Memory Disorders / etiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / drug effects
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Recognition, Psychology / drug effects
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors