Longitudinal structural brain development and externalizing behavior in adolescence

Marieke G. N. Bos, Lara M. Wierenga, Neeltje E. Blankenstein, Elisabeth Schreuders, Christian K. Tamnes, Eveline A. Crone

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Background: Cross-sectional studies report relations between externalizing behavior and structural abnormalities in cortical thickness of prefrontal regions and volume reductions in subcortical regions. To understand how these associations emerge and develop, longitudinal designs are pivotal. Method: In the current longitudinal study, a community sample of children, adolescents and young adults (N = 271) underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in three biennial waves (680 scans). At each wave, aspects of externalizing behavior were assessed with parent-reported aggression and rule-breaking scores (Child Behavior Checklist), and self-reported aggression scores (Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire). Regions of interest (ROIs) were selected based on prior research: dorsolateral prefrontal (dlPFC), orbitofrontal (OFC), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), insula, and parahippocampal cortex, as well as subcortical regions. Linear mixed models were used to assess the longitudinal relation between externalizing behavior and structural brain development. Structural covariance analyses were employed to identify whether longitudinal relations between ROIs (maturational coupling) were associated with externalizing behavior. Results: Linear mixed model analyses showed a negative relation between parent-reported aggression and right hippocampal volume. Moreover, this longitudinal relation was driven by change in hippocampal volume and not initial volume of hippocampus at time point 1. Exploratory analyses showed that stronger maturational coupling between prefrontal regions, the limbic system, and striatum was associated with both low and high externalizing behavior. Conclusions: Together, these findings reinforce the hypothesis that altered structural brain development coincides with development of more externalizing behavior. These findings may guide future research on normative and deviant development of externalizing behavior.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1061-1072
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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