Characterized by frontostriatal dysfunction, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is associated with cognitive and psychiatric abnormalities. Several studies have noted impaired facial emotion recognition abilities in patient populations that demonstrate frontostriatal dysfunction; however, facial emotion recognition abilities have not been systematically examined in HIV patients. The current study investigated facial emotion recognition in 50 nondemented HIV-seropositive adults and 50 control participants relative to their performance on a nonemotional landscape categorization control task. We examined the relation of HIV-disease factors (nadir and current CD4 levels) to emotion recognition abilities and assessed the psychosocial impact of emotion recognition abnormalities. Compared to control participants, HIV patients performed normally on the control task but demonstrated significant impairments in facial emotion recognition, specifically for fear. HIV patients reported greater psychosocial impairments, which correlated with increased emotion recognition difficulties. Lower current CD4 counts were associated with poorer anger recognition. In summary, our results indicate that chronic HIV infection may contribute to emotion processing problems among HIV patients. We suggest that disruptions of frontostriatal structures and their connections with cortico-limbic networks may contribute to emotion recognition abnormalities in HIV. Our findings also highlight the significant psychosocial impact that emotion recognition abnormalities have on individuals with HIV. (JINS, 2010, 16, 1127–1137.)
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