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White matter correlates of hemi-face dominance in happy and sad expression


The neural underpinnings of human emotional expression are thought to be unevenly distributed among the two brain hemispheres. However, little is known on the anatomy supporting this claim, particularly in the cerebral white matter. Here, we explored the relationship between hemi-face dominance in emotional expression and cerebral white matter asymmetries in 33 healthy participants. Measures of emotional expression were derived from pictures of the participant’s faces in a ‘happy smiling’ and a ‘sad frowning’ conditions. Chimeric faces were constructed by mirroring right and left hemi-faces, as done in previous studies, resulting in a left mirrored and right mirrored chimeric face per picture. To gain measures of hemi-face dominance per participant, a jury of 20 additional participants rated which chimeric face shows the higher intensity of emotional expressivity, by marking a 155 mm line between the two versions. Measures of the asymmetry of the uncinate, the cingulum and the three branches of superior longitudinal fasciculi were derived from diffusion-weighted imaging tractography dissections. Group effect analyses indicated that the degree of asymmetry in emotional expression was not as prominent as reported in the literature and showed a large inter-individual variability. The degree of asymmetry in emotional expression was, however, significantly associated with the asymmetries in connective properties of the fronto-temporal and fronto-parietal tracts, specifically the uncinate fasciculus and the first branch of the superior longitudinal fasciculus. Therefore, this result raises novel hypotheses on the relationship of specific white matter tracts and emotional expression, especially their role in mood disorders.

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We thank ERASMUS for supporting SI. This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant agreement No. 818521). The research leading to these results also received funding from the “Agence Nationale de la Recherche” [Grants number ANR-13-JSV4-0001-01] and from the Fondation pour la Recherche Médicale (FRM). Additional financial support comes from the program “Investissements d’avenir” ANR-10-IAIHU-06 and ANR-11-INBS-0006.


Funding from ERC (Grant agreement No. 818521) and “Agence Nationale de la Recherche” [Grants numbers ANR-13- JSV4-0001-01, ANR-10-IAIHU-06 and ANR-11-INBS-0006].

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Correspondence to Stefano Ioannucci or Michel Thiebaut de Schotten.

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Ioannucci, S., George, N., Friedrich, P. et al. White matter correlates of hemi-face dominance in happy and sad expression. Brain Struct Funct (2020).

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  • Asymmetry
  • Emotion expression
  • Lateralization
  • White matter
  • Neuroanatomy