Summary: Researchers have identified key differences between the way males and females with schizophrenia process the emotional states of others than those without the condition. The study reports those with schizophrenia use less complex brain regions than healthy controls to process other people’s emotions.
Source: Mount Sinai Hospital.
Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have found clear disparities in the way males and females–both those with schizophrenia and those who are healthy–discern the mental states of others.
The research, the first of its kind, will be published online on October 30, in Social Neuroscience.
The research team examined emotional processing in 37 clinically stable participants diagnosed with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, compared with 31 healthy controls. Subjects identified emotions of other people by looking at pictures of eyes and listening to stories. Smell tests were also administered to measure odor detection and odor identification ability. Most animal species rely on their sense of smell to determine the intentions of other animals. Intelligence scores measured more complex brain processing and olfactory or scent scores measured simpler mental processing.
They found that females without schizophrenia used more complex areas of their brains to identify someone else’s mental state, including other’s beliefs, desires, intentions, and emotions. The healthy males used less complex brain regions to process others’ mental states.
Both women and men with schizophrenia used less complex brain regions to process the emotional states of others. Men with schizophrenia used less complex brain regions for processing than healthy men.
“Women and men are fundamentally different, and it is critical to perform sex-specific research across psychiatry and all of medicine,” said the study’s senior author, Dolores Malaspina, MD, Director, Psychosis Program, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Sex-stratified research is essential for studying social processes in general and especially for conditions such as schizophrenia that present differently in women and men.”
“The neurocircuitry of olfaction is very closely related to the neurocircuitry for emotional processing,” said the study’s first author, Julie Walsh-Messinger, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Dayton. “So the interaction between the two might be a window to better understanding schizophrenia.”
The research team plans to study what causes the differences in sexes in their olfactory responses in the future.
Funding: This work was supported by National Institutes of Mental Health grants RC1MH088843, 2K24MH00169, and R01MH066428.
Source: Rachel Zuckerman – Mount Sinai Hospital
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
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Original Research: Abstract for “Normal sexual dimorphism in theory of mind circuitry is reversed in Schizophrenia” by Julie Walsh-Messinger, Christine Stepanek, Julia Wiedemann, Deborah Goetz, Raymond R Goetz & Dolores Malaspina in Social Neuroscience. Published October 29 2018.
Normal sexual dimorphism in theory of mind circuitry is reversed in Schizophrenia
The ability to mentalize, or theory of mind (ToM), is sexually dimorphic in humans and impaired in schizophrenia. This sex-stratified study probed cognitive (indexed by intelligence) and affective (indexed by olfactory tasks) contributions to ToM performance in 37 individuals with schizophrenia and 31 healthy controls. The schizophrenia group showed impairments in mental state identification and inferring intentions compared to controls. Higher intelligence was correlated with mental state identification and inferring intentions in healthy females, whereas better smell identification was associated with mental state identification in healthy males. Conversely, higher intelligence was associated with mental state identification and inferring intentions in schizophrenia males, while better smell identification was correlated with mental state identification in schizophrenia females. These findings suggest that for ToM circuitry, the cognitive influences in healthy females and affective influences in healthy males are reversed in schizophrenia and may be displaced to lower circuitries by disease pathology. Symptom associations with emotion and cognition are also dimorphic, plausibly due to similar pathology superimposed on normal sex-specific circuitries. Males appear to rely on limbic processing for ToM, and disruption to this circuitry may contribute to development of negative symptoms. These findings highlight the importance of utilizing sex-stratified designs in schizophrenia research.