Emotional empathy in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: A behavioural and voxel-based morphometry study

Chiara Cerami, Alessandra Dodich, Nicola Canessa, Chiara Crespi, Sandro Iannaccone, Massimo Corbo, Christian Lunetta, Monica Consonni, Elisa Scola, Andrea Falini, Stefano F. Cappa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a multisystem condition, in which executive and/or behavioural symptoms can occur. Deficits of social cognition, including defective cognitive and emotional empathy, have been recently reported in ALS subjects. The neurostructural correlates of these disorders in ALS are still unknown. The aims of this study were to evaluate two components of empathy in non-demented ALS subjects, and to associate performance with regional grey-matter density using voxel-based morphometry (VBM). Twenty non-demented sporadic probable or definite ALS patients and 56 matched healthy controls (HC) participated in a non-verbal task requiring the attribution of emotional versus cognitive states to identify the correct ending of comic strips, compared with a control condition requiring identifying causal relationships devoid of social components. A subgroup of 14 ALS and 20 HC joined the VBM study. Results demonstrated that, compared with controls, ALS patients showed defective emotional empathy attribution, related with reduced grey-matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex and right inferior frontal gyrus. Our study provided evidence of a specific impairment of emotional empathy in ALS patients, reflecting neural damage in a limbic prefrontal network involved in emotional processing. Social cognition disorders may represent a marker of cognitive dysfunction in ALS.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-29
Number of pages9
JournalAmyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Frontotemporal Degeneration
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Anterior cingulate cortex
  • Biomarker
  • Dementia
  • Empathy
  • Imaging
  • Social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology

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