Childhood Brain Microstructure as a Prospective Predictor of Psychopathology Trajectories in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study®

Adrienne Romer, PhD

McLean Hospital – Fellow

Scientific Abstract

Background:  A general psychopathology (‘p’) factor captures shared variation across mental disorders. Structural neural alterations have been associated with individual differences in p factor scores concurrently, but less is known about whether early brain structural alterations predict within-person change in p over time.

Methods:  We examined whether baseline brain microstructure predicted the trajectory of p factor scores over two years in 9,214 Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study® preadolescents. We conducted longitudinal linear multilevel models of baseline global brain structure (volume, surface area, thickness) predicting between-person differences (intercept) and within-person change (slope) in p factor scores over three study waves, controlling for sex, age, race/ethnicity, scanner, and site.

Results:  Smaller global cortical volume (b=-0.102, 95% CI [-0.125, -0.078]), surface area (b=-0.104, 95% CI [-0.127, -0.081]), and subcortical volume (b=-0.077, 95% CI [-0.100, -0.055]) (all p<0.001), but not thickness (p=0.983), were associated with higher baseline p factor scores, which persisted over time. None of the brain structure measures predicted within-person change in p factor scores. Specificity analyses revealed that lower baseline mean cortical thickness predicted greater within-person decreases in internalizing factor scores (b=0.014, 95% CI [0.004, 0.023], p=0.004), which was driven by lower thickness within somatomotor, visual, and temporal regions.

Conclusions: Children with globally smaller brain volume and surface area had higher initial p scores, but their baseline microstructure did not predict within-person changes in p during preadolescence. Children with thinner baseline somatomotor, visual, and temporal cortical regions showed the greatest declines in internalizing psychopathology over time. Increased levels of pruning/myelination of visuo-sensory-motor brain regions may protect against the development of future internalizing disorders. 


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research Areas


Adrienne Romer, PhD, Diego Pizzagalli, PhD

Principal Investigator

Diego Pizzagalli, PhD

Affiliated Website