Specific cortical and subcortical alterations for reactive and proactive aggression in children and adolescents with disruptive behavior

Jilly Naaijen*, Leandra M Mulder, Shahrzad Ilbegi, Sanne de Bruijn, Renee Kleine-Deters, Andrea Dietrich, Pieter J Hoekstra, Jan-Bernard C Marsman, Pascal M Aggensteiner, Nathalie E Holz, Boris Boettinger, Sarah Baumeister, Tobias Banaschewski, Melanie C Saam, Ulrike M E Schulze, Paramala J Santosh, Ilyas Sagar-Ouriaghli, Mathilde Mastroianni, Josefina Castro Fornieles, Nuria BargalloMireia Rosa, Celso Arango, Maria J Penzol, Julia E Werhahn, Susanne Walitza, Daniel Brandeis, Jeffrey C Glennon, Barbara Franke, Marcel P Zwiers, Jan K Buitelaar

*Corresponding author for this work

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Maladaptive aggression, as present in conduct disorder (CD) and, to a lesser extent, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), has been associated with structural alterations in various brain regions, such as ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), amygdala, insula and ventral striatum. Although aggression can be subdivided into reactive and proactive subtypes, no neuroimaging studies have yet investigated if any structural brain alterations are associated with either of the subtypes specifically. Here we investigated associations between aggression subtypes, CU traits and ADHD symptoms in predefined regions of interest. T1-weighted magnetic resonance images were acquired from 158 children and adolescents with disruptive behavior (ODD/CD) and 96 controls in a multi-center study (aged 8-18). Aggression subtypes were assessed by questionnaires filled in by participants and their parents. Cortical volume and subcortical volumes and shape were determined using Freesurfer and the FMRIB integrated registration and segmentation tool. Associations between volumes and continuous measures of aggression were established using multilevel linear mixed effects models. Proactive aggression was negatively associated with amygdala volume (b = -10.7, p = 0.02), while reactive aggression was negatively associated with insula volume (b = -21.7, p = 0.01). No associations were found with CU traits or ADHD symptomatology. Classical group comparison showed that children and adolescents with disruptive behavior had smaller volumes than controls in (bilateral) vmPFC (p = 0.003) with modest effect size and a reduced shape in the anterior part of the left ventral striatum (p = 0.005). Our study showed negative associations between reactive aggression and volumes in a region involved in threat responsivity and between proactive aggression and a region linked to empathy. This provides evidence for aggression subtype-specific alterations in brain structure which may provide useful insights for clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102344
Number of pages8
JournalNeuroImage. Clinical
Early online date11-Jul-2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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