Conduct disorder (CD), a psychiatric disorder characterized by a repetitive pattern of antisocial behaviors, results from a complex interplay between genetic and environmental factors. The clinical presentation of CD varies both according to the individual’s sex and level of callous-unemotional (CU) traits, but it remains unclear how genetic and environmental factors interact at the molecular level to produce these differences. Emerging evidence in males implicates methylation of genes associated with socio-affective processes. Here, we combined an epigenome-wide association study with structural neuroimaging in 51 females with CD and 59 typically developing (TD) females to examine DNA methylation in relation to CD, CU traits, and gray matter volume (GMV). We demonstrate an inverse pattern of correlation between CU traits and methylation of a chromosome 1 region in CD females (positive) as compared to TD females (negative). The identified region spans exon 1 of the SLC25A24 gene, central to energy metabolism due to its role in mitochondrial function. Increased SLC25A24 methylation was also related to lower GMV in multiple brain regions in the overall cohort. These included the superior frontal gyrus, prefrontal cortex, and supramarginal gyrus, secondary visual cortex and ventral posterior cingulate cortex, which are regions that have previously been implicated in CD and CU traits. While our findings are preliminary and need to be replicated in larger samples, they provide novel evidence that CU traits in females are associated with methylation levels in a fundamentally different way in CD and TD, which in turn may relate to observable variations in GMV across the brain.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Biological Psychiatry