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Callous-unemotional traits and brain structure: Sex-specific effects in anterior insula of typically-developing youths


Abstract

Callous-unemotional traits are characterized by a lack of empathy, a disregard for others' feelings and shallow or deficient affect, such as a lack of remorse or guilt. Neuroanatomical correlates of callous-unemotional traits have been demonstrated in clinical samples (i.e., adolescents with disruptive behavior disorders). However, it is unknown whether callous-unemotional traits are associated with neuroanatomical correlates within normative populations without clinical levels of aggression or antisocial behavior. Here we investigated the relationship between callous-unemotional traits and gray matter volume using voxel-based morphometry in a large sample of typically-developing boys and girls ( = 189). Whole-brain multiple regression analyses controlling for site, total intracranial volume, and age were conducted in the whole sample and in boys and girls individually. Results revealed that sex and callous-unemotional traits interacted to predict gray matter volume when considering the whole sample. This interaction was driven by a significant positive correlation between callous-unemotional traits and bilateral anterior insula volume in boys, but not girls. Insula gray matter volume explained 19% of the variance in callous-unemotional traits for boys. Our results demonstrate that callous-unemotional traits are related to variations in brain structure beyond psychiatric samples. This association was observed for boys only, underlining the importance of considering sex as a factor in future research designs. Future longitudinal studies should determine whether these findings hold over childhood and adolescence, and whether the neuroanatomical correlates of callous-unemotional traits are predictive of future psychiatric vulnerability.

General scientific summary:
This study suggests that callous-unemotional traits have a neuroanatomical correlate within typically developing boys, but not girls. Bilateral anterior insula volume explains up to 19% of the variance in callous-unemotional traits in boys.

Abstract

Callous-unemotional traits are characterized by a lack of empathy, a disregard for others' feelings and shallow or deficient affect, such as a lack of remorse or guilt. Neuroanatomical correlates of callous-unemotional traits have been demonstrated in clinical samples (i.e., adolescents with disruptive behavior disorders). However, it is unknown whether callous-unemotional traits are associated with neuroanatomical correlates within normative populations without clinical levels of aggression or antisocial behavior. Here we investigated the relationship between callous-unemotional traits and gray matter volume using voxel-based morphometry in a large sample of typically-developing boys and girls ( = 189). Whole-brain multiple regression analyses controlling for site, total intracranial volume, and age were conducted in the whole sample and in boys and girls individually. Results revealed that sex and callous-unemotional traits interacted to predict gray matter volume when considering the whole sample. This interaction was driven by a significant positive correlation between callous-unemotional traits and bilateral anterior insula volume in boys, but not girls. Insula gray matter volume explained 19% of the variance in callous-unemotional traits for boys. Our results demonstrate that callous-unemotional traits are related to variations in brain structure beyond psychiatric samples. This association was observed for boys only, underlining the importance of considering sex as a factor in future research designs. Future longitudinal studies should determine whether these findings hold over childhood and adolescence, and whether the neuroanatomical correlates of callous-unemotional traits are predictive of future psychiatric vulnerability.

General scientific summary:
This study suggests that callous-unemotional traits have a neuroanatomical correlate within typically developing boys, but not girls. Bilateral anterior insula volume explains up to 19% of the variance in callous-unemotional traits in boys.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
06 Faculty of Arts > Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Language:English
Date:2018
Deposited On:09 Oct 2019 14:20
Last Modified:09 Oct 2019 14:20
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:2213-1582
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nicl.2017.12.015
PubMed ID:29527490

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