Neural correlates of empathy in mild cognitive impairment

Davide Quaranta, Sonia Di Tella, Valeria Cassano, Federica L’Abbate, Matilde Bruno, Simona Gaudino, Marco Panfili, Maria Caterina Silveri, Camillo Marra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The occurrence of clinically significant changes in empathy is a matter of debate in Alzheimer's disease (AD). Altered empathic mechanisms observed in AD may be a consequence of cognitive impairment, more specifically of reduced mental flexibility and self-regulation. The present study explored possible changes in empathy for subjects in the prodromal phase of AD, namely mild cognitive impairment (MCI) due to AD, and of their neural substrates. Eighteen MCI patients and 20 healthy controls (HC) were included in the study. The Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) questionnaire was administered to each participant. The IRI encompasses four factors: Perspective Taking; Fantasy; Empathic Concern; Personal Distress. MCI patients underwent a magnetic resonance imaging structural examination and were compared to 30 healthy controls (HC-MRI). A limited number of cortical and subcortical regions involved in social cognition was selected as regions of interest (ROIs). MCI individuals obtained lower scores than HC in the Perspective Taking and Fantasy subscales of the IRI, whereas they obtained higher scores on Empathic Concern. Regarding neuroimaging data, a significant correlation emerged between IRI scores and the neural measurements of different regions involved in empathy, especially covering the temporoparietal junction, which is a critical region engaged in both affective and cognitive dimensions of empathy. The results of the present study suggest that a subtle impairment in regulatory mechanisms of empathy may occur very early during the course of AD, possibly as a consequence of neuropathological changes occurring in brain regions involved in social cognition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-183
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • Empathy
  • Executive functions
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Social cognition
  • Temporoparietal junction


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