Neural Responses to Affective and Cognitive Theory of Mind in Children With Conduct Problems and Varying Levels of Callous-Unemotional Traits

Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, England, UK.
Archives of general psychiatry (Impact Factor: 14.48). 08/2012; 69(8):814-22. DOI: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.2070
Source: PubMed


Reduced neural responses to others' distress is hypothesized to play a critical role in conduct problems coupled with callous-unemotional traits, whereas increased neural responses to affective stimuli may accompany conduct problems without callous-unemotional traits. Heterogeneity of affective profiles in conduct problems may account for inconsistent neuroimaging findings in this population.
To broaden understanding of neural processing in conduct problems using an affective processing task including an empathy component as well as to explore dimensional contributions of conduct problems symptoms and callous-unemotional traits to variance in affective neural responses.
Case-control study.
On-campus neuroimaging facility.
Thirty-one boys with conduct problems (mean age, 14.34 years) and 16 typically developing control subjects (mean age, 13.51 years) matched for age (range, 10-16 years), IQ, socioeconomic status, handedness, and race/ethnicity. Participants were recruited using screening questionnaires in a community-based volunteer sample.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging of a task contrasting affective and cognitive theory of mind judgments.
Relative to typically developing children, children with conduct problems showed reduced activation in right amygdala and anterior insula for affective vs cognitive theory of mind judgments. Furthermore, in the right amygdala, regression analysis within the conduct-problems group showed suppressor effects between ratings of conduct problems and callous-unemotional traits. Specifically, unique variance associated with conduct problems was positively correlated with amygdala reactivity, whereas unique variance associated with callous-unemotional traits was negatively correlated with amygdala reactivity. These associations were not explained by hyperactivity, depression/anxiety symptoms, or alcohol use ratings.
Childhood conduct problems are associated with amygdala and anterior insula hypoactivity during a complex affective processing task including an empathy component. Suppressor effects between conduct problems and callous-unemotional traits in the amygdala suggest a potential neural substrate for heterogeneity in affective profiles associated with conduct problems.

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Available from: Nathalie M. G. Fontaine, Oct 10, 2015
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    • "Of the four ROIs, amygdala and AI did not show group differences at FWE-corrected levels (although the CP group as a whole showed reduced right AI volume at p < 0.001 uncorrected ; Table S1). This was somewhat surprising, since previous studies have found reduced volume of these regions in children and adolescents with CP (Fairchild et al. 2011; Sterzer et al. 2007), while several fMRI studies (including three based on a subset of the participants included in the current study) have found evidence for amygdala and/or AI hypoactivity during emotional processing in CP/HCU (Jones et al. 2009; Lockwood et al. 2013; Marsh et al. 2008; Sebastian et al. 2012; Viding et al. 2012). There is therefore strong evidence across imaging modalities for atypical amygdala and AI function in this group. "
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    ABSTRACT: Genetic, behavioural and functional neuroimaging studies have revealed that different vulnerabilities characterise children with conduct problems and high levels of callous-unemotional traits (CP/HCU) compared with children with conduct problems and low callous-unemotional traits (CP/LCU). We used voxel-based morphometry to study grey matter volume (GMV) in 89 male participants (aged 10-16), 60 of whom exhibited CP. The CP group was subdivided into CP/HCU (n = 29) and CP/LCU (n = 31). Whole-brain and regional GMV were compared across groups (CP vs. typically developing (TD) controls (n = 29); and CP/HCU vs. CP/LCU vs. TD). Whole-brain analyses showed reduced GMV in left middle frontal gyrus in the CP/HCU group compared with TD controls. Region-of-interest analyses showed reduced volume in bilateral orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) in the CP group as a whole compared with TD controls. Reduced volume in left OFC was found to be driven by the CP/HCU group only, with significant reductions relative to both TD controls and the CP/LCU group, and no difference between these latter two groups. Within the CP group left OFC volume was significantly predicted by CU traits, but not conduct disorder symptoms. Reduced right anterior cingulate cortex volume was also found in CP/HCU compared with TD controls. Our results support previous findings indicating that GMV differences in brain regions central to decision-making and empathy are implicated in CP. However, they extend these data to suggest that some of these differences might specifically characterise the subgroup with CP/HCU, with GMV reduction in left OFC differentiating children with CP/HCU from those with CP/LCU.
    Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 09/2015; DOI:10.1007/s10802-015-0073-0 · 3.09 Impact Factor
    • "For example, early results from studies examining heterogeneous groups of youth with conduct disorder yielded inconsistent findings (for a review, see Hyde et al., 2013), whereas more recent studies that have examined CU traits as a subtyping approach for youth AB appear to identify two subgroups with different profiles of neural reactivity: youth with AB and CU traits appear to have behavior that is more highly heritable (Viding, Jones, Paul, Moffitt, & Plomin, 2008), associated with deficits in emotion recognition (Marsh & Blair, 2008), and exhibit reduced amygdala reactivity to emotional paradigms (Jones, Laurens, Herba, Gareth, & Viding, 2009; Marsh et al., 2008). In contrast, youth high on AB and low on CU traits appear to have AB that is much less highly heritable , more associated with emotional dysregulation (Pardini & Frick, 2013), and exhibit exaggerated amygdala reactivity to the same emotional paradigms (Viding, Sebastian, et al., 2012). Given that youth with AB and CU traits are low on amygdala reactivity, whereas youth with AB and without CU traits are higher than control youth, neurogenetics studies that ignore these subgroups may find very conflicting findings depending on the levels of unmeasured CU traits within them, particularly when examining neural and genetic corre- lates. "
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    ABSTRACT: The emerging field of neurogenetics seeks to model the complex pathways from gene to brain to behavior. This field has focused on imaging genetics techniques that examine how variability in common genetic polymorphisms predict differences in brain structure and function. These studies are informed by other complimentary techniques (e.g., animal models and multimodal imaging) and have recently begun to incorporate the environment through examination of Imaging Gene × Environment interactions. Though neurogenetics has the potential to inform our understanding of the development of psychopathology, there has been little integration between principles of neurogenetics and developmental psychopathology. The paper describes a neurogenetics and Imaging Gene × Environment approach and how these approaches have been usefully applied to the study of psychopathology. Six tenets of developmental psychopathology (the structure of phenotypes, the importance of exploring mechanisms, the conditional nature of risk, the complexity of multilevel pathways, the role of development, and the importance of who is studied) are identified, and how these principles can further neurogenetics applications to understanding the development of psychopathology is discussed. A major issue of this piece is how neurogenetics and current imaging and molecular genetics approaches can be incorporated into developmental psychopathology perspectives with a goal of providing models for better understanding pathways from among genes, environments, the brain, and behavior.
    Development and Psychopathology 05/2015; 27(02):587-613. DOI:10.1017/S0954579415000188 · 4.89 Impact Factor
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    • "A number of functional magnetic resonance imaging studies have examined emotion processing in male youth with conduct problems (e.g. Jones, Laurens, Herba, Barker & Viding, 2009; Marsh, Finger, Mitchell, Reid, Sims, Kosson, Towbin, Leibenluft, Pine & Blair, 2008; Passamonti , Fairchild, Goodyer, Hurford, Hagan, Rowe & Calder, 2010; Sebastian, McCrory, Cecil, Lockwood, De Brito, Fontaine & Viding, 2012; Sterzer, Stadler, Krebs, Kleinschmidt & Poustka, 2005). These studies revealed hypo-activation of at least one neural region typically implicated in emotion processing: the amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex or anterior insula. "
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    ABSTRACT: Individuals with severe antisocial behaviour often demonstrate abnormalities or difficulties in emotion processing. Antisocial behaviour typically onsets before adulthood and is reflected in antisocial individuals at the biological level. We therefore conducted a brain-based study of emotion processing in juvenile offenders. Male adolescent offenders and age-matched non-offenders passively viewed emotional images whilst their brain activity was recorded using electroencephalography. The early posterior negativity (EPN) and the late positive potential (LPP) components were used as indices of emotion processing. For both juvenile offenders and non-offenders, the EPN differentiated unpleasant images from other image types, suggesting that early perceptual processing was not impaired in the offender group. In line with normal emotion processing, the LPP was significantly enhanced following unpleasant images for non-offenders. However, for juvenile offenders, the LPP did not differ across image categories, indicative of deficient emotional processing. The findings indicated that this brain-based hypo-reactivity occurred during a late stage of cognitive processing and was not a consequence of atypical early visual attention or perception. This study is the first to show attenuated emotion processing in juvenile offenders at the neural level. Overall, these results have the potential to inform interventions for juvenile offending.
    Developmental Science 11/2014; DOI:10.1111/desc.12262 · 3.89 Impact Factor
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