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Children of parents with mood and psychotic disorders are at elevated risk for a range of behavioral and emotional problems. However, as the usual reporter of psychopathology in children is the parent, reports of early problems in children of parents with mood and psychotic disorders may be biased by the parents' own experience of mental illness and their mental state.
Independent observers rated psychopathology using the Test Observation Form in 378 children and youth between the ages of 4 and 24 (mean = 11.01, s.d. = 4.40) who had a parent with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or no history of mood and psychotic disorders.
Observed attentional problems were elevated in offspring of parents with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (effect sizes ranging between 0.31 and 0.56). Oppositional behavior and language/thought problems showed variable degrees of elevation (effect sizes 0.17 to 0.57) across the three high-risk groups, with the greatest difficulties observed in offspring of parents with bipolar disorder. Observed anxiety was increased in offspring of parents with major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder (effect sizes 0.19 and 0.25 respectively) but not in offspring of parents with schizophrenia.
Our results suggest that externalizing problems and cognitive and language difficulties may represent a general manifestation of familial risk for mood and psychotic disorders, while anxiety may be a specific marker of liability for mood disorders. Observer assessment may improve early identification of risk and selection of youth who may benefit from targeted prevention.
Larger grey matter volume of the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) is among the most replicated biomarkers of genetic risk for bipolar disorders (BD). However, the IFG is a heterogeneous prefrontal region, and volumetric findings can be attributable to changes in cortical thickness (CT), surface area (SA) or gyrification. Here, we investigated the morphometry of IFG in participants at genetic risk for BD.
We quantified the IFG cortical grey matter volume in 29 affected, 32 unaffected relatives of BD probands, and 42 controls. We then examined SA, CT, and cortical folding in subregions of the IFG.
We found volumetric group differences in the right IFG, with the largest volumes in unaffected high-risk and smallest in control participants (F2,192 = 3.07, p = 0.01). The volume alterations were localized to the pars triangularis of the IFG (F2,97 = 4.05, p = 0.02), with no differences in pars opercularis or pars orbitalis. Pars triangularis volume was highly correlated with its SA [Pearson r(101) = 0.88, p < 0.001], which significantly differed between the groups (F2,97 = 4.45, p = 0.01). As with volume, the mean SA of the pars triangularis was greater in unaffected (corrected p = 0.02) and affected relatives (corrected p = 0.05) compared with controls. We did not find group differences in pars triangularis CT or gyrification.
These findings strengthen prior knowledge about the volumetric findings in this region and provide a new insight into the localization and topology of IFG alterations. The unique nature of rIFG morphology in BD, with larger volume and SA early in the course of illness, could have practical implications for detection of participants at risk for BD.
Psychotic symptoms are common in children and adolescents and may be early manifestations of liability to severe mental illness (SMI), including schizophrenia. SMI and psychotic symptoms are associated with impairment in executive functions. However, previous studies have not differentiated between ‘cold’ and ‘hot’ executive functions. We hypothesized that the propensity for psychotic symptoms is specifically associated with impairment in ‘hot’ executive functions, such as decision-making in the context of uncertain rewards and losses.
In a cohort of 156 youth (mean age 12.5, range 7–24 years) enriched for familial risk of SMI, we measured cold and hot executive functions with the spatial working memory (SWM) task (total errors) and the Cambridge Gambling Task (decision-making), respectively. We assessed psychotic symptoms using the semi-structured Kiddie Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia interview, Structured Interview for Prodromal Syndromes, Funny Feelings, and Schizophrenia Proneness Instrument – Child and Youth version.
In total 69 (44.23%) youth reported psychotic symptoms on one or more assessments. Cold executive functioning, indexed with SWM errors, was not significantly related to psychotic symptoms [odds ratio (OR) 1.36, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.85–2.17, p = 0.204). Poor hot executive functioning, indexed as decision-making score, was associated with psychotic symptoms after adjustment for age, sex and familial clustering (OR 2.37, 95% CI 1.25–4.50, p = 0.008). The association between worse hot executive functions and psychotic symptoms remained significant in sensitivity analyses controlling for general cognitive ability and cold executive functions.
Impaired hot executive functions may be an indicator of risk and a target for pre-emptive early interventions in youth.
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