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Previous case–control studies of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) have identified altered brain structure such as altered frontal and temporal cortex volumes, or decreased fractional anisotropy (FA) within the inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus in patients. It remains unclear whether subclinical autistic-like traits might also be related to variation in these brain structures.
In this study, we analyzed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data of 250 psychiatrically healthy subjects phenotyped for subclinical autistic-like traits using the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ). For data analysis, we used voxel-based morphometry of T1-MRIs (Computational Anatomy Toolbox) and tract-based spatial statistics for diffusion tensor imaging data.
AQ attention switching subscale correlated negatively with FA values in the bilateral uncinate fasciculus as well as the bilateral inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus. Higher AQ attention switching subscale scores were associated with increased mean diffusivity and radial diffusivity values in the uncinate fasciculus, while axial diffusivity values within this tract show a negative correlation. AQ attention to detail subscale correlated positively with gray matter volume in the right pre- and postcentral gyrus.
We demonstrate that individuals with higher levels of autism-spectrum-like features show decreased white matter integrity in tracts associated with higher-level visual processing and increased cortical volume in areas linked to movement sequencing and working memory. Our results resemble regional brain structure alterations found in individuals with ASD. This offers opportunities to further understand the etiology and pathogenesis of the disorder and shows a subclinical continuum perspective.
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.
Brain imaging studies have shown altered amygdala activity during emotion processing in children and adolescents with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and conduct disorder (CD) compared to typically developing children and adolescents (TD). Here we aimed to assess whether aggression-related subtypes (reactive and proactive aggression) and callous-unemotional (CU) traits predicted variation in amygdala activity and skin conductance (SC) response during emotion processing.
We included 177 participants (n = 108 cases with disruptive behaviour and/or ODD/CD and n = 69 TD), aged 8–18 years, across nine sites in Europe, as part of the EU Aggressotype and MATRICS projects. All participants performed an emotional face-matching functional magnetic resonance imaging task.
Differences between cases and TD in affective processing, as well as specificity of activation patterns for aggression subtypes and CU traits, were assessed. Simultaneous SC recordings were acquired in a subsample (n = 63). Cases compared to TDs showed higher amygdala activity in response to negative faces (fearful and angry) v. shapes. Subtyping cases according to aggression-related subtypes did not significantly influence on amygdala activity; while stratification based on CU traits was more sensitive and revealed decreased amygdala activity in the high CU group. SC responses were significantly lower in cases and negatively correlated with CU traits, reactive and proactive aggression.
Our results showed differences in amygdala activity and SC responses to emotional faces between cases with ODD/CD and TD, while CU traits moderate both central (amygdala) and peripheral (SC) responses. Our insights regarding subtypes and trait-specific aggression could be used for improved diagnostics and personalized treatment.
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