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Identifying youths most at risk to COVID-19-related mental illness is essential for the development of effective targeted interventions.
To compare trajectories of mental health throughout the pandemic in youth with and without prior mental illness and identify those most at risk of COVID-19-related mental illness.
Data were collected from individuals aged 18–26 years (N = 669) from two existing cohorts: IMAGEN, a population-based cohort; and ESTRA/STRATIFY, clinical cohorts of individuals with pre-existing diagnoses of mental disorders. Repeated COVID-19 surveys and standardised mental health assessments were used to compare trajectories of mental health symptoms from before the pandemic through to the second lockdown.
Mental health trajectories differed significantly between cohorts. In the population cohort, depression and eating disorder symptoms increased by 33.9% (95% CI 31.78–36.57) and 15.6% (95% CI 15.39–15.68) during the pandemic, respectively. By contrast, these remained high over time in the clinical cohort. Conversely, trajectories of alcohol misuse were similar in both cohorts, decreasing continuously (a 15.2% decrease) during the pandemic. Pre-pandemic symptom severity predicted the observed mental health trajectories in the population cohort. Surprisingly, being relatively healthy predicted increases in depression and eating disorder symptoms and in body mass index. By contrast, those initially at higher risk for depression or eating disorders reported a lasting decrease.
Healthier young people may be at greater risk of developing depressive or eating disorder symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. Targeted mental health interventions considering prior diagnostic risk may be warranted to help young people cope with the challenges of psychosocial stress and reduce the associated healthcare burden.
Deficiency in contextual and enhanced responding in cued fear learning may contribute to the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We examined the responses to aversive Pavlovian conditioning with an unpredictable spatial context as conditioned stimulus compared to a predictable context. We hypothesized that the PTSD group would demonstrate less hippocampal and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) activation during acquisition and extinction of unpredictable contexts and an over-reactive amygdala response in the predictable contexts compared to controls.
A novel combined differential cue-context conditioning paradigm was applied using virtual reality with spatial contexts that required configural and cue processing. We assessed 20 patients with PTSD, 21 healthy trauma-exposed (TC) and 22 non-trauma-exposed (HC) participants using functional magnetic resonance imaging, skin conductance responses, and self-report measures.
During fear acquisition, patients with PTSD compared to TC showed lower activity in the hippocampi in the unpredictable and higher activity in the amygdalae in the predictable context. During fear extinction, TC compared to patients and HC showed higher brain activity in the vmPFC in the predictable context. There were no significant differences in self-report or skin conductance responses.
Our results suggest that patients with PTSD differ in brain activation from controls in regions such as the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the vmPFC in the processing of unpredictable and predictable contexts. Deficient encoding of more complex configurations might lead to a preponderance of cue-based predictions in PTSD. Exposure-based treatments need to focus on improving predictability of contextual processing and reducing enhanced cue reactivity.
It has not yet been determined if the commonly reported cannabis–psychosis association is limited to individuals with pre-existing genetic risk for psychotic disorders.
We examined whether the relationship between polygenic risk score for schizophrenia (PRS-Sz) and psychotic-like experiences (PLEs), as measured by the Community Assessment of Psychic Experiences-42 (CAPE-42) questionnaire, is mediated or moderated by lifetime cannabis use at 16 years of age in 1740 of the individuals of the European IMAGEN cohort. Secondary analysis examined the relationships between lifetime cannabis use, PRS-Sz and the various sub-scales of the CAPE-42. Sensitivity analyses including covariates, including a PRS for cannabis use, were conducted and results were replicated using data from 1223 individuals in the Dutch Utrecht cannabis cohort.
PRS-Sz significantly predicted cannabis use (p = 0.027) and PLE (p = 0.004) in the IMAGEN cohort. In the full model, considering PRS-Sz and covariates, cannabis use was also significantly associated with PLE in IMAGEN (p = 0.007). Results remained consistent in the Utrecht cohort and through sensitivity analyses. Nevertheless, there was no evidence of a mediation or moderation effects.
These results suggest that cannabis use remains a risk factor for PLEs, over and above genetic vulnerability for schizophrenia. This research does not support the notion that the cannabis–psychosis link is limited to individuals who are genetically predisposed to psychosis and suggests a need for research focusing on cannabis-related processes in psychosis that cannot be explained by genetic vulnerability.
Sex-related differences in psychopathology are known phenomena, with externalizing and internalizing symptoms typically more common in boys and girls, respectively. However, the neural correlates of these sex-by-psychopathology interactions are underinvestigated, particularly in adolescence.
Participants were 14 years of age and part of the IMAGEN study, a large (N = 1526) community-based sample. To test for sex-by-psychopathology interactions in structural grey matter volume (GMV), we used whole-brain, voxel-wise neuroimaging analyses based on robust non-parametric methods. Psychopathological symptom data were derived from the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ).
We found a sex-by-hyperactivity/inattention interaction in four brain clusters: right temporoparietal-opercular region (p < 0.01, Cohen's d = −0.24), bilateral anterior and mid-cingulum (p < 0.05, Cohen's d = −0.18), right cerebellum and fusiform (p < 0.05, Cohen's d = −0.20) and left frontal superior and middle gyri (p < 0.05, Cohen's d = −0.26). Higher symptoms of hyperactivity/inattention were associated with lower GMV in all four brain clusters in boys, and with higher GMV in the temporoparietal-opercular and cerebellar-fusiform clusters in girls.
Using a large, sex-balanced and community-based sample, our study lends support to the idea that externalizing symptoms of hyperactivity/inattention may be associated with different neural structures in male and female adolescents. The brain regions we report have been associated with a myriad of important cognitive functions, in particular, attention, cognitive and motor control, and timing, that are potentially relevant to understand the behavioural manifestations of hyperactive and inattentive symptoms. This study highlights the importance of considering sex in our efforts to uncover mechanisms underlying psychopathology during adolescence.
Tobacco smoking remains one of the leading causes of preventable illness and death and is heritable with complex underpinnings. Converging evidence suggests a contribution of the polygenic risk for smoking to the use of tobacco and other substances. Yet, the underlying brain mechanisms between the genetic risk and tobacco smoking remain poorly understood.
Genomic, neuroimaging, and self-report data were acquired from a large cohort of adolescents from the IMAGEN study (a European multicenter study). Polygenic risk scores (PGRS) for smoking were calculated based on a genome-wide association study meta-analysis conducted by the Tobacco and Genetics Consortium. We examined the interrelationships among the genetic risk for smoking initiation, brain structure, and the number of occasions of tobacco use.
A higher smoking PGRS was significantly associated with both an increased number of occasions of tobacco use and smaller cortical volume of the right orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). Furthermore, reduced cortical volume within this cluster correlated with greater tobacco use. A subsequent path analysis suggested that the cortical volume within this cluster partially mediated the association between the genetic risk for smoking and the number of occasions of tobacco use.
Our data provide the first evidence for the involvement of the OFC in the relationship between smoking PGRS and tobacco use. Future studies of the molecular mechanisms underlying tobacco smoking should consider the mediation effect of the related neural structure.
Abnormalities in reward circuit function are considered a core feature of addiction. Yet, it is still largely unknown whether these abnormalities stem from chronic drug use, a genetic predisposition, or both.
In the present study, we investigated this issue using a large sample of adolescent children by applying structural equation modeling to examine the effects of several dopaminergic polymorphisms of the D1 and D2 receptor type on the reward function of the ventral striatum (VS) and orbital frontal cortex (OFC), and whether this relationship predicted the propensity to engage in early alcohol misuse behaviors at 14 years of age and again at 16 years of age.
The results demonstrated a regional specificity with which the functional polymorphism rs686 of the D1 dopamine receptor (DRD1) gene and Taq1A of the ANKK1 gene influenced medial and lateral OFC activation during reward anticipation, respectively. Importantly, our path model revealed a significant indirect relationship between the rs686 of the DRD1 gene and early onset of alcohol misuse through a medial OFC × VS interaction.
These findings highlight the role of D1 and D2 in adjusting reward-related activations within the mesocorticolimbic circuitry, as well as in the susceptibility to early onset of alcohol misuse.
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