Atypical frontal-striatal-thalamic circuit white matter development in pediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder

Kate D Fitzgerald, Yanni Liu, Elyse N Reamer, Stephan F Taylor, Robert C Welsh
Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 2014, 53 (11): 1225-33, 1233.e1-9

OBJECTIVE: Atypical development of frontal-striatal-thalamic circuitry (FSTC) has been hypothesized to underlie the early course of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD); however, the development of FSTC white matter tracts remains to be studied in young patients.

METHOD: To address this gap, we scanned 36 patients with pediatric OCD compared to 27 healthy controls, aged 8 to 19 years, with diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to measure fractional anisotropy (FA), an index of white matter coherence. Tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) were used to test differential effects of age on FA, across the whole brain, in those with OCD compared to healthy youth, followed by analyses in a priori regions of interest (anterior corpus callosum, anterior cingulum bundle, and anterior limb of the internal capsule [ALIC]) to further characterize developmental differences between groups.

RESULTS: Patients with OCD showed more pronounced age-related increases in FA than controls in regions of interest, as well as several other white matter tracts. In patients, greater FA in anterior cingulum bundle correlated with more severe symptoms after controlling for age.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings support theories of atypical FSTC maturation in pediatric OCD by providing the first evidence for altered trajectories of white matter development in anterior corpus callosum, anterior cingulum bundle, and ALIC in young patients. Steeper age-related increases of FA in these and other select white matter tracts in OCD, compared to those in healthy controls, may derive from an early delay in white matter development and/or prolonged white matter growth; however, confirmation of these possibilities awaits longitudinal work.

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