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PLOS ONE  2013 

Isn’t it ironic? Neural Correlates of Irony Comprehension in Schizophrenia

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0074224

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Abstract:

Ironic remarks are frequent in everyday language and represent an important form of social cognition. Increasing evidence indicates a deficit in comprehension in schizophrenia. Several models for defective comprehension have been proposed, including possible roles of the medial prefrontal lobe, default mode network, inferior frontal gyri, mirror neurons, right cerebral hemisphere and a possible mediating role of schizotypal personality traits. We investigated the neural correlates of irony comprehension in schizophrenia by using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In a prosody-free reading paradigm, 15 female patients with schizophrenia and 15 healthy female controls silently read ironic and literal text vignettes during fMRI. Each text vignette ended in either an ironic (n = 22) or literal (n = 22) statement. Ironic and literal text vignettes were matched for word frequency, length, grammatical complexity, and syntax. After fMRI, the subjects performed an off-line test to detect error rate. In this test, the subjects indicated by button press whether the target sentence has ironic, literal, or meaningless content. Schizotypal personality traits were assessed using the German version of the schizotypal personality questionnaire (SPQ). Patients with schizophrenia made significantly more errors than did the controls (correct answers, 85.3% vs. 96.3%) on a behavioural level. Patients showed attenuated blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) response during irony comprehension mainly in right hemisphere temporal regions (ironic>literal contrast) and in posterior medial prefrontal and left anterior insula regions (for ironic>visual baseline, but not for literal>visual baseline). In patients with schizophrenia, the parahippocampal gyrus showed increased activation. Across all subjects, BOLD response in the medial prefrontal area was negatively correlated with the SPQ score. These results highlight the role of the posterior medial prefrontal and right temporal regions in defective irony comprehension in schizophrenia and the mediating role of schizotypal personality traits.

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