Few investigations have analyzed the neuroanatomical substrate of empathic capacities in healthy subjects, and most of them have neglected the potential involvement of cerebellar structures. The main aim of the present study was to investigate the associations between bilateral cerebellar macro- and micro-structural measures and levels of cognitive and affective trait empathy (measured by Interpersonal Reactivity Index, IRI) in a sample of 70 healthy subjects of both sexes. We also estimated morphometric variations of cerebral Gray Matter structures, to ascertain whether the potential empathy-related peculiarities in cerebellar areas were accompanied by structural differences in other cerebral regions. At macro-structural level, the volumetric differences were analyzed by Voxel-Based Morphometry (VBM)- and Region of Interest (ROI)-based approaches, and at a micro-structural level, we analyzed Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) data, focusing in particular on Mean Diffusivity and Fractional Anisotropy. Fantasy IRI-subscale was found to be positively associated with volumes in right cerebellar Crus 2 and pars triangularis of inferior frontal gyrus. The here described morphological variations of cerebellar Crus 2 and pars triangularis allow to extend the traditional cortico-centric view of cognitive empathy to the cerebellar regions and indicate that in empathizing with fictional characters the cerebellar and frontal areas are co-recruited.
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