The processing of angry faces in schizophrenia patients with a history of suicide: An fMRI study examining brain activity and connectivity

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2021 Apr 20;107:110253. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2021.110253. Epub 2021 Jan 21.


Background: The high rate of suicidal behaviours (SBs) in psychiatric populations remain an important preoccupation to address. The literature reveals emotional instability as an important risk factor for SBs. However, the neural mechanisms underpinning this risk factor have never been investigated in schizophrenia patients with SBs. The following study implemented a task-based emotional processing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) paradigm to evaluate the activation and connectivity differences exhibited by schizophrenia patients with a history of suicide attempt (SA).

Method: A sample of 62 schizophrenia patients with and without SA and 22 controls completed an fMRI emotional processing task, which included the visualization of dynamic angry facial expressions. Task-based connectivity was assessed using generalized psychophysical interaction analyses.

Results: During the processing of angry faces, suicidal schizophrenia patients displayed increased activation of the left median cingulate gyrus, left middle frontal gyrus, and left precuneus when compared to nonsuicidal schizophrenia patients and healthy controls. Whole-brain connectivity analyses yielded an increased coupling of the right amygdala and right superior frontal gyrus, as well as between the left precuneus and median cingulate gyrus, in suicidal schizophrenia patients. Schizophrenia patients' hostility scores on the Positive and Negative Symptom Scale (PANSS) were significantly and positively correlated with the activity of the left median cingulate gyrus.

Conclusion: When exposed to angry faces, suicidal schizophrenia patients demonstrate elevated activation of brain regions associated to executive functioning and self-processing, as well as aberrant fronto-limbic connectivity involved in emotion regulation. Our results highlight the neglected role of anger when investigating the neural alterations underpinning SBs in schizophrenia.

Keywords: Amygdala; Anger; Schizophrenia; Suicide; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anger / physiology*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Facial Expression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Schizophrenia / diagnostic imaging*
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology
  • Schizophrenic Psychology*
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology*
  • Suicide, Attempted / trends
  • Young Adult