Association of gray matter volumes with general and specific dimensions of psychopathology in children


Childhood is an important time for the manifestation of psychopathology. Psychopathology is characterized by considerable comorbidity which is mirrored in the underlying neural correlates of psychopathology. Both common and dissociable variations in brain volume have been found across multiple mental disorders in adult and youth samples. However, the majority of these studies used samples with broad age ranges which may obscure developmental differences. The current study examines associations between regional gray matter volumes (GMV) and psychopathology in a large sample of children with a narrowly defined age range. We used data from 9607 children 9–10 years of age collected as part of the Adolescent Brain Cognitive DevelopmentSM Study (ABCD Study®). A bifactor model identified a general psychopathology factor that reflects common variance across disorders and specific factors representing internalizing symptoms, ADHD symptoms, and conduct problems. Brain volume was acquired using 3T MRI. After correction for multiple testing, structural equation modeling revealed nearly global inverse associations between regional GMVs and general psychopathology and conduct problems, with associations also found for ADHD symptoms (pfdr-values ≤ 0.048). Age, sex, and race were included as covariates. Sensitivity analyses including total GMV or intracranial volume (ICV) as covariates support this global association, as a large majority of region-specific results became nonsignificant. Sensitivity analyses including income, parental education, and medication use as additional covariates demonstrate largely convergent results. These findings suggest that globally smaller GMVs are a nonspecific risk factor for general psychopathology, and possibly for conduct problems and ADHD as well.