Blair RJ. The neurobiology of psychopathic traits in youths. Nat Rev Neurosci 14: 786-799

National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.
Nature Reviews Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 31.43). 10/2013; 14(11). DOI: 10.1038/nrn3577
Source: PubMed


Conduct disorder is a childhood behaviour disorder that is characterized by persistent aggressive or antisocial behaviour that disrupts the child's environment and impairs his or her functioning. A proportion of children with conduct disorder have psychopathic traits. Psychopathic traits consist of a callous-unemotional component and an impulsive-antisocial component, which are associated with two core impairments. The first is a reduced empathic response to the distress of other individuals, which primarily reflects reduced amygdala responsiveness to distress cues; the second is deficits in decision making and in reinforcement learning, which reflects dysfunction in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and striatum. Genetic and prenatal factors contribute to the abnormal development of these neural systems, and social-environmental variables that affect motivation influence the probability that antisocial behaviour will be subsequently displayed.

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    • "Also, in our recent study, youths with CD showed altered hemodynamic activity in the amygdala, cuneus, lingual gyrus, insula and thalamus in the resting state (Zhou et al. 2015). On the other hand, youths with CD have also been found to show impairments in emotion recognition and related processes, such as empathy, emotion recognition, and emotion control (Woodworth and Waschbusch 2008; Fairchild et al. 2009; Schwenck et al. 2012), which may result from the dysfunction of diverse neural circuits (Blair 2013). Therefore, investigating the activity and functional connectivity of the DMN may shed light on the neurobiological processes underlying these affective and social impairments. "
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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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    • "A similar result in ACC was also found by Marsh et al. (2013). While we cannot equate functional hypo-reactivity and reduced GM volume, the current data are consistent with theories suggesting that atypical neural function in regions underlying emotional processing and reinforcement learning contributes to CP/HCU (e.g., Anderson and Kiehl 2012; Blair 2013). Future studies could use multimodal imaging to explore relationships between structural and functional measures in children with CP. "
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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.
    Full-text · Article · Sep 2015 · Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology
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    • "Existing research reveals that children with co-morbid callous/unemotional traits and conduct disorder symptoms engage in earlier sexual intercourse (Wymbs et al., 2013) and higher rates of substance use in adolescence (Wymbs et al., 2012). Examining the influence of callous/unemotional traits on other risk behaviors than violence is critical because of callous/unemotional traits' association with disinhibited behavior and dysregulation in emotional responsivity (Blair, 2013; Frick & White, 2008; Kimonis et al., 2006). This vulnerability within callous/unemotional traits may create differential associations with distinct types of risk factors. "
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    ABSTRACT: Child maltreatment poses significant risk to the development of callous/unemotional traits as well as risk behaviors such as engaging in violence, having sex with strangers, and binge drinking. In the current study, the indirect pathway from child maltreatment to risk behaviors was examined via callous/unemotional traits; whereas the conscientious personality trait was tested as a moderator of this indirect pathway. Young adults and parents (N=361; Mage=19.14, SD=1.44) completed questionnaires on child maltreatment histories, callousness/unemotional traits, personality characteristics, and risk behaviors. Structural equation modeling was used to examine the hypothesized direct, indirect and conditional indirect effects. Findings showed indirect links between the child maltreatment latent factor and physical fighting, having sex with strangers, and binge drinking via callous/unemotional traits. Furthermore, the conscientiousness personality type significantly buffered the connection between callous/unemotional traits and physical fighting, supporting a conditional indirect effects. Callous/unemotional traits are important factors in the underlying mechanism between child maltreatment and risk behaviors among young adults, and conscientiousness serves as a protective factor against violence. Preventive intervention programs and clinicians may benefit from focusing in addressing callous/unemotional traits among youth who report childhood maltreatment experiences as well as targeting conscientiousness as a protective factor. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2015 · Child abuse & neglect
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