Perception of emotional facial expressions in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at behavioural and brain metabolic level

Helena E A Aho-Ozhan, Jurgen Keller, Johanna Heimrath, Ingo Uttner, Jan Kassubek, Niels Birbaumer, Albert C. Ludolph, Dorothee Lule

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) primarily impairs motor abilities but also affects cognition and emotional processing. We hypothesise that subjective ratings of emotional stimuli depicting social interactions and facial expressions is changed in ALS. It was found that recognition of negative emotions and ability to mentalize other's intentions is reduced. Methods Processing of emotions in faces was investigated. A behavioural test of Ekman faces expressing six basic emotions was presented to 30 ALS patients and 29 age-, gender and education matched healthy controls. Additionally, a subgroup of 15 ALS patients that were able to lie supine in the scanner and 14 matched healthy controls viewed the Ekman faces during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Affective state and a number of daily social contacts were measured. Results ALS patients recognized disgust and fear less accurately than healthy controls. In fMRI, reduced brain activity was seen in areas involved in processing of negative emotions replicating our previous results. During processing of sad faces, increased brain activity was seen in areas associated with social emotions in right inferior frontal gyrus and reduced activity in hippocampus bilaterally. No differences in brain activity were seen for any of the other emotional expressions. Inferior frontal gyrus activity for sad faces was associated with increased amount of social contacts of ALS patients. Conclusion ALS patients showed decreased brain and behavioural responses in processing of disgust and fear and an altered brain response pattern for sadness. The negative consequences of neurodegenerative processes in the course of ALS might be counteracted by positive emotional activity and positive social interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0164655
JournalPLoS One
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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