Testing the Ecophenotype Model: Cortical Structure Alterations in Conduct Disorder With Versus Without Childhood Maltreatment

Marlene Staginnus, Harriet Cornwell, Nicola Toschi, Maaike Oosterling, Michal Paradysz, Areti Smaragdi, Karen González-Madruga, Ruth Pauli, Jack C. Rogers, Anka Bernhard, Anne Martinelli, Gregor Kohls, Nora Maria Raschle, Kerstin Konrad, Christina Stadler, Christine M. Freitag, Stephane A. De Brito, Graeme Fairchild

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Childhood maltreatment is common in youths with conduct disorder (CD), and both CD and maltreatment have been linked to neuroanatomical alterations. Nonetheless, our understanding of the contribution of maltreatment to the neuroanatomical alterations observed in CD remains limited. We tested the applicability of the ecophenotype model to CD, which holds that maltreatment-related psychopathology is (neurobiologically) distinct from psychopathology without maltreatment.

Surface-based morphometry was used to investigate cortical volume, thickness, surface area, and gyrification in a mixed-sex sample of participants with CD (n = 114) and healthy control subjects (HCs) (n = 146), ages 9 to 18 years. Using vertexwise general linear models adjusted for sex, age, total intracranial volume, and site, the control group was compared with the overall CD group and the CD subgroups with (n = 49) versus without (n = 65) maltreatment (assessed by the Children’s Bad Experiences interview). These subgroups were also directly compared.

The overall CD group showed lower cortical thickness in the right inferior frontal gyrus. CD youths with a history of maltreatment showed more widespread structural alterations relative to HCs, comprising lower thickness, volume, and gyrification in inferior and middle frontal regions. Conversely, CD youths with no history of maltreatment only showed greater left superior temporal gyrus folding relative to HCs. When contrasting the CD subgroups, those with maltreatment displayed lower right superior temporal gyrus volume, right precentral gyrus surface area, and gyrification in frontal, temporal, and parietal regions.

Consistent with the ecophenotype model, findings indicated that CD youths with versus without maltreatment differ neurobiologically. This highlights the importance of considering maltreatment history in neuroimaging studies of CD and other disorders.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)609-619
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
Issue number6
Early online date2 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Economic and Social Research CouncilES/P000630/1
European Commission Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological DevelopmentFP7 grant no. 602407
Medical Research CouncilMR/N0137941/1


  • Antisocial behavior
  • Brain structure
  • Childhood maltreatment
  • Conduct disorder
  • Cortical thickness
  • Surface-based morphometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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