Disrupted Prefrontal Regulation of Striatal Subjective Value Signals in Psychopathy

Published Date: 
July 5, 2017

Psychopathy is a personality disorder with strong links to criminal behavior. While research on psychopathy has focused largely on socio-affective dysfunction, recent data suggest that aberrant decision making may also play an important role. Yet, the circuit-level mechanisms underlying maladaptive decision making in psychopathy remain unclear. Here, we used a multi-modality functional imaging approach to identify these mechanisms in a population of adult male incarcerated offenders. Psychopathy was associated with stronger subjective value-related activity within the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) during inter-temporal choice and with weaker intrinsic functional connectivity between NAcc and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). NAcc-vmPFC connectivity strength was negatively correlated with NAcc subjective value-related activity; however, this putative regulatory pattern was abolished as psychopathy severity increased. Finally, weaker cortico-striatal regulation predicted more frequent criminal convictions. These data suggest that cortico-striatal circuit dysregulation drives maladaptive decision making in psychopathy, supporting the notion that reward system dysfunction comprises an important neurobiological risk factor.