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Female adolescents with severe substance and conduct problems have substantially less brain gray matter volume

Manish S Dalwani, Mary Agnes McMahon, Susan K Mikulich-Gilbertson, Susan E Young, Michael F Regner, Kristen M Raymond, Shannon K McWilliams, Marie T Banich, Jody L Tanabe, Thomas J Crowley, Joseph T Sakai
PloS One 2015, 10 (5): e0126368
26000879

OBJECTIVE: Structural neuroimaging studies have demonstrated lower regional gray matter volume in adolescents with severe substance and conduct problems. These research studies, including ours, have generally focused on male-only or mixed-sex samples of adolescents with conduct and/or substance problems. Here we compare gray matter volume between female adolescents with severe substance and conduct problems and female healthy controls of similar ages.

HYPOTHESES: Female adolescents with severe substance and conduct problems will show significantly less gray matter volume in frontal regions critical to inhibition (i.e. dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex), conflict processing (i.e., anterior cingulate), valuation of expected outcomes (i.e., medial orbitofrontal cortex) and the dopamine reward system (i.e. striatum).

METHODS: We conducted whole-brain voxel-based morphometric comparison of structural MR images of 22 patients (14-18 years) with severe substance and conduct problems and 21 controls of similar age using statistical parametric mapping (SPM) and voxel-based morphometric (VBM8) toolbox. We tested group differences in regional gray matter volume with analyses of covariance, adjusting for age and IQ at p<0.05, corrected for multiple comparisons at whole-brain cluster-level threshold.

RESULTS: Female adolescents with severe substance and conduct problems compared to controls showed significantly less gray matter volume in right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, medial orbitofrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, bilateral somatosensory cortex, left supramarginal gyrus, and bilateral angular gyrus. Considering the entire brain, patients had 9.5% less overall gray matter volume compared to controls.

CONCLUSIONS: Female adolescents with severe substance and conduct problems in comparison to similarly aged female healthy controls showed substantially lower gray matter volume in brain regions involved in inhibition, conflict processing, valuation of outcomes, decision-making, reward, risk-taking, and rule-breaking antisocial behavior.

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