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Internalising disorders are highly prevalent emotional dysregulations during preadolescence but clinical decision-making is hampered by high heterogeneity. During this period impulsivity represents a major risk factor for psychopathological trajectories and may act on this heterogeneity given the controversial anxiety–impulsivity relationships. However, how impulsivity contributes to the heterogeneous symptomatology, neurobiology, neurocognition and clinical trajectories in preadolescent internalising disorders remains unclear.
The aim was to determine impulsivity-dependent subtypes in preadolescent internalising disorders that demonstrate distinct anxiety–impulsivity relationships, neurobiological, genetic, cognitive and clinical trajectory signatures.
We applied a data-driven strategy to determine impulsivity-related subtypes in 2430 preadolescents with internalising disorders from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study. Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses were employed to examine subtype-specific signatures of the anxiety–impulsivity relationship, brain morphology, cognition and clinical trajectory from age 10 to 12 years.
We identified two distinct subtypes of patients who internalise with comparably high anxiety yet distinguishable levels of impulsivity, i.e. enhanced (subtype 1) or decreased (subtype 2) compared with control participants. The two subtypes exhibited opposing anxiety–impulsivity relationships: higher anxiety at baseline was associated with higher lack of perseverance in subtype 1 but lower sensation seeking in subtype 2 at baseline/follow-up. Subtype 1 demonstrated thicker prefrontal and temporal cortices, and genes enriched in immune-related diseases and glutamatergic and GABAergic neurons. Subtype 1 exhibited cognitive deficits and a detrimental trajectory characterised by increasing emotional/behavioural dysregulations and suicide risks during follow-up.
Our results indicate impulsivity-dependent subtypes in preadolescent internalising disorders and unify past controversies about the anxiety–impulsivity interaction. Clinically, individuals with a high-impulsivity subtype exhibit a detrimental trajectory, thus early interventions are warranted.
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