Atypical nucleus accumbens morphology in psychopathy: Another limbic piece in the puzzle

Marina Boccardi, Martina Bocchetta, Hannu J. Aronen, Eila Repo-Tiihonen, Olli Vaurio, Paul M. Thompson, Jari Tiihonen, Giovanni B. Frisoni

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37 Scopus citations


Psychopathy has been associated with increased putamen and striatum volumes. The nucleus accumbens - a key structure in reversal learning, less effective in psychopathy - has not yet received specific attention. Moreover, basal ganglia morphology has never been explored. We examined the morphology of the caudate, putamen and accumbens, manually segmented from magnetic resonance images of 26 offenders (age: 32.5 ± 8.4) with medium-high psychopathy (mean PCL-R = 30 ± 5) and 25 healthy controls (age: 34.6 ± 10.8). Local differences were statistically modeled using a surface-based radial distance mapping method (p < 0.05; multiple comparisons correction through permutation tests). In psychopathy, the caudate and putamen had normal global volume, but different morphology, significant after correction for multiple comparisons, for the right dorsal putamen (permutation test: p = 0.02). The volume of the nucleus accumbens was 13% smaller in psychopathy (p corrected for multiple comparisons < 0.006). The atypical morphology consisted of predominant anterior hypotrophy bilaterally (10-30%). Caudate and putamen local morphology displayed negative correlation with the lifestyle factor of the PCL-R (permutation test: p = 0.05 and 0.03). From these data, psychopathy appears to be associated with an atypical striatal morphology, with highly significant global and local differences of the accumbens. This is consistent with the clinical syndrome and with theories of limbic involvement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-167
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Law and Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • ASPD
  • Basal ganglia
  • MRI
  • Neuroimaging
  • Nucleus accumbens
  • Psychopathy
  • Radial atrophy mapping


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