Neuroanatomical markers of familial risk in adolescents with Conduct Disorder and their unaffected relatives

Graeme Fairchild, Kate Sully, Luca Passamonti, Marlene Staginnus, Angela Darekar, Edmund Sonuga-Barke, Nicola Toschi

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Background: Previous studies have reported brain structure abnormalities in conduct disorder (CD), but it is unclear whether these neuroanatomical alterations mediate the effects of familial (genetic and environmental) risk for CD. We investigated brain structure in adolescents with CD and their unaffected relatives (URs) to identify neuroanatomical markers of familial risk for CD. 

Methods: Forty-one adolescents with CD, 24 URs of CD probands, and 38 healthy controls (aged 12-18), underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging. We performed surface-based morphometry analyses, testing for group differences in cortical volume, thickness, surface area, and folding. We also assessed the volume of key subcortical structures. 

Results: The CD and UR groups both displayed structural alterations (lower surface area and folding) in left inferior parietal cortex compared with controls. In contrast, CD participants showed lower insula and pars opercularis volume than controls, and lower surface area and folding in these regions than controls and URs. The URs showed greater folding in rostral anterior cingulate and inferior temporal cortex than controls and greater medial orbitofrontal folding than CD participants. The surface area and volume differences were not significant when controlling for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder comorbidity. There were no group differences in subcortical volumes. 

Conclusions: These findings suggest that alterations in inferior parietal cortical structure partly mediate the effects of familial risk for CD. These structural changes merit investigation as candidate endophenotypes for CD. Neuroanatomical changes in medial orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate cortex differentiated between URs and the other groups, potentially reflecting neural mechanisms of resilience to CD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1721-1731
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number5
Early online date5 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2023


  • Antisocial behavior
  • brain structure
  • conduct disorder
  • endophenotype
  • family-based designs
  • surface-based morphometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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