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
    • "For example, this model is nicely illustrated by a study showing that AB+CU– youth showed high amygdala reactivity, whereas AB+CU+ youth showed low amygdala reactivity, to fearful expressions (Viding, Sebastian, et al., 2012). Although this theory is gaining empirical support, only a few studies have decoupled the potential effects of AB versus CU traits on amygdala reactivity , as much of this work has been conducted with small samples of extreme clinical or forensic participants categorized dichotomously on both AB and CU traits (Kiehl et al., 2001; Viding, Sebastian, et al., 2012). In most of these studies, participants are high on both AB and CU traits (e.g., Jones et al., 2009; Marsh et al., 2008), which precludes the examination of whether amygdala reactivity is related specifically to level of CU traits or potentially to the severity of AB. "
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    ABSTRACT: Neuroimaging has suggested that amygdala reactivity to emotional facial expressions is associated with antisocial behavior (AB), particularly among those high on callous-unemotional (CU) traits. To investigate this association and potential moderators of this relationship, including task/stimuli effects, subregional anatomy of the amygdala, and participant race, we used fMRI in a sample of 167 racially diverse, 20 year-old men from low-income families. We found that AB, but not CU traits, was negatively related to amygdala reactivity to fearful faces. This result was specific to fearful faces and strongest in the centro-medial subregion of the amygdala. Arrest record was positively related to basolateral amygdala reactivity to fearful and angry faces. Results were strongest among those identified as African American and not present in those identified as European American. Our findings suggest substantial complexity in the relationship between amygdala function and AB reflecting moderating effects of task stimulus, subregional anatomy, and race.
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    • "The underlying neurobiology of CD has attracted growing attention (van Goozen et al. 2007; Blair et al. 2014). It has been found that children and adolescents with CD have reduced grey matter volume or cortical thickness in diverse cortical regions compared to typically-developing (TD) controls in amygdala, anterior insula, and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) (Bussing et al. 2002; Kruesi et al. 2004; Sterzer et al. 2007; Dalwani et al. 2011; Hyatt et al. 2012), along with altered neural activity in response to affective or empathy-inducing stimuli (Marsh et al. 2013; Sterzer et al. 2007; Viding et al. 2012; Sebastian et al. 2012; Finger et al. 2011; Dalwani et al. 2011; Fairchild et al. 2011). "
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    ABSTRACT: Conduct disorder (CD) is a serious behavioral disorder of childhood and adolescence. The default mode network (DMN) is a brain network which supports self-referential cognitive processes and is typically deactivated during task performance. The aim of this study was to investigate DMN connectivity in male adolescents with pure CD compared to typically-developing controls. Eighteen male adolescents with CD and 18 sex-, age- and education-matched typically-developing (TD) participants were recruited. Current and lifetime psychiatric disorders were assessed using the Chinese version of the Schedule for Affective Disorder and Schizophrenia for School-Age Children-Present and Lifetime Version. Resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data were obtained using a 3.0 T scanner. Independent components analysis (ICA) was used to investigate functional connectivity between the DMN and related brain regions. DMN activity was observed in medial prefrontal, posterior cingulate, and lateral parietal cortices, and extended to the brainstem. Adolescents with CD showed significantly reduced functional connectivity within the bilateral posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), bilateral precuneus and right superior temporal gyrus relative to TD controls. CD is associated with reduced functional connectivity within the DMN and between the DMN and other regions. These preliminary results suggest that deficits in DMN functional connectivity may serve as a biomarker of CD.
    Full-text · Article · Oct 2015 · Brain Imaging and Behavior
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    • "Past neuroimaging research, conducted almost exclusively in males, presents a mixed picture concerning the relationship between CP and emotional empathy, particularly in response to viewing others in pain, being harmed, or in emotional distress. One set of studies reports reduced affective responsiveness in youth with CP compared to youth without CP, particularly in individuals with elevated callousunemotional (CU) traits (Cheng, Hung, & Decety, 2012; Jones, Happe, Gilbert, Burnett, & Viding, 2010; Lockwood et al., 2013; Marsh et al., 2013; Sebastian et al., 2012; Stevens, Charman, & Blair, 2001). CU traits are sometimes viewed as early signs of later psychopathy and reflect an important dimension of heterogeneity among children with CP (Frick, Ray, Thornton, & Kahn, 2014). "
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    ABSTRACT: Background: Deficient empathic processing is thought to foster conduct disorder (CD). It is important to determine the extent to which neural response associated with perceiving harm to others predicts CD symptoms and callous disregard for others. Methods: A total of 107 9- to 11-year-old children (52 female) were recruited from pediatric and mental health clinics, representing a wide range of CD symptoms. Children were scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging while viewing brief video clips of persons being harmed intentionally or accidentally. Results: Perceiving harm evoked increased hemodynamic response in the anterior insula (aINS), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), amygdala, periaqueductal gray (PAG), caudate, and inferior parietal lobe (IPL) across all participants. Intentionally caused, relative to unintentional harm was associated with greater activity in the aINS, amygdala, and temporal pole. There was an inverse association of number of CD symptoms with right posterior insula in both the Harm > No Harm and the Intentional > Unintentional Harm contrasts. Furthermore, an inverse association between callousness and posterior insula activation was found in the Harm > No Harm contrast, with the opposite pattern for reactive aggression scores. An interaction revealed a stronger association in girls between CD symptoms and the right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) in the Intentional Harm versus Unintentional Harm contrast. Conclusions: Children with greater CD and callousness exhibit dampened hemodynamic response to viewing others being harmed in the insula, a region which plays a key role in empathy and emotional awareness. Sex differences in the neural correlates of CD were observed.
    Full-text · Article · Oct 2015 · Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
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