Facial emotion recognition deficits are associated with hypomimia and related brain correlates in Parkinson's disease

J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2024 Jan 11. doi: 10.1007/s00702-023-02725-3. Online ahead of print.


Hypomimia is a frequent manifestation in Parkinson's disease (PD) that can affect interpersonal relationships and quality of life. Recent studies have suggested that hypomimia is not only related to motor dysfunction but also to impairment in emotional processing networks. Therefore, we hypothesized that the severity of hypomimia could be associated with performance on a task aimed at assessing facial emotion recognition. In this study, we explored the association between hypomimia, recognition of facial expressions of basic emotions using the Ekman 60 Faces Test (EF), and brain correlates of both hypomimia and performance on the EF. A total of 94 subjects underwent clinical assessments (neurological and neuropsychological examinations), and 56 of them participated in the neuroimaging study. We found significant correlation between hypomimia, EF Disgust (r = -0.242, p = 0.022) and EF Happiness (r = -0.264, p = 0.012); an independent reduction in Cortical Thickness (Cth) in the postcentral gyrus, insula, middle and superior temporal gyri, supramarginal gyrus, banks of the superior temporal sulcus, bilateral fusiform gyri, entorhinal cortex, parahippocampal gyrus, inferior and superior parietal cortex, and right cuneus and precuneus; and multiple correlations between negative emotions such as EF Disgust or EF Anger and a reduced Cth in fronto-temporo-parietal regions. In conclusion, these results suggest that the association between hypomimia and emotion recognition deficits in individuals with PD might be mediated by shared circuits, supporting the concept that hypomimia is not only the result of the dysfunction of motor circuits, but also of higher cognitive functions.

Keywords: Cortical thickness; Facial emotion recognition; Hypomimia; Parkinson’s Disease; Social cognition.