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Reduced structural integrity of the uncinate fasciculus in incarcerated women scoring high on psychopathy

Abstract

Both men and women scoring high on psychopathy exhibit similar structural and functional neural abnormalities, including reduced volume of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and reduced hemodynamic activity in the amygdala during affective processing experimental paradigms. The uncinate fasciculus (UF) is a white matter (WM) tract that connects the amygdala to the OFC. Reduced structural integrity of the UF, measured via fractional anisotropy (FA), is commonly associated with men scoring high on psychopathy. However, only one study to date has investigated the relationship between psychopathic traits and UF structural integrity in women, recruiting participants from a community sample. Here, we investigated whether Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) facet scores (measuring interpersonal, affective, lifestyle/behavioral, and antisocial psychopathic traits, respectively) were associated with reduced FA in the left and right UF in a sample of 254 incarcerated women characterized by a wide range of psychopathy scores. We observed that PCL-R Facet 3 scores, assessing lifestyle/behavioral psychopathic traits, were associated with reduced FA in the left and right UF, even when controlling for participant’s age and history of previous substance use. The results obtained in the current study help improve our understanding of structural abnormalities associated with women scoring high on psychopathy. Specifically, reduced UF structural integrity may contribute to some of the deficits commonly associated with women scoring high on psychopathy, including emotion dysregulation.

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Fig. 1

Data availability

Interested parties should contact the Corresponding Author, Dr. Kent Kiehl (kkiehl@mrn.org) for the data used in this report.

Code availability

Not applicable.

Notes

  1. The UF FA values reported in the current study are consistent with previously published studies in non-forensic samples (Kierońska et al., 2020; Zhang et al., 2014).

  2. As reported in extended detail in our Supplemental Materials, PCL-R Facet 3 scores remained significantly associated with reduced FA in the left UF (β = − 0.25, p = .001) and right UF (β = − 0.20, p = .007) when controlling for participant’s age, substance use severity, and overall brain volume.

  3. Important to note, as we did not have a strong a priori hypothesis as to whether PCL-R scores would be significantly associated with FA values in these remaining 46 WM tracts, we did not correct for multiple comparisons in these exploratory analyses.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful for the New Mexico Department of Corrections for their cooperative efforts.

Funding

This study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) through grants R01 MH085010 and R01 MH109329 and the National Institute on Drug Abuse through grants R01 DA026964 and R01 DA020870.

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Correspondence to J. Michael Maurer or Kent A. Kiehl.

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Maurer, J.M., Paul, S., Edwards, B.G. et al. Reduced structural integrity of the uncinate fasciculus in incarcerated women scoring high on psychopathy. Brain Imaging and Behavior 16, 2141–2149 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11682-022-00684-z

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