Associations Between Life-Course-Persistent Antisocial Behaviour and Brain Structure In a Population-Representative Longitudinal Birth Cohort

1. Individuals exhibiting life-course-persistent antisocial behavior were found to have decreased mean neocortex surface area and lower mean cortical thickness than those without antisocial behaviors, suggesting notable brain surface morphometry associations with antisocial behaviors.

Evidence Rating Level: 2 (Good)

Developmental theories of antisocial behavior in adults and adolescents (often considered conduct problems or Conduct Disorder) suggest atypical neurodevelopment and structure over the life-course. However, studies have not investigated these features of life-course-persistent behaviors compared to adolescence-limited behaviors. This retrospective, population-representative, cohort study sought to determine whether or not differences between these groups exist and, further, whether smaller cross-sectional studies were unable to capture nuanced abnormalities, with specific focus on neocortex surface area and cortical thickness. Participants were drawn from the longitudinal Dunedin Study, each born between April 1, 1972 and March 31, 1973. A total of 997 participants were included in this study, each being assessed at birth, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 18, 21, 26, 31, 38, and 45 years. At the age of 45 years is the point at which 94% of the initial birth cohort was living. Self-reports determined placement into life-course-persistent, adolescence-limited, or no history of persistent antisocial behavior groups. A total of 672 participants had adequate MRI data: life-course-persistent (12%, 41% female), adolescence-limited (23%, 46% female), low antisocial behavior (66%, 53% female). MRI data suggested significant differences in mean cortical thickness of the life-course-persistent group compared to those in the no antisocial behavior group (standardized β, -0.10, 95% CI -0.19 to -0.02, p = 0.02) but not between the other groups of comparison. The life-course-persistent group had significantly lower mean surface area than those in the no antisocial behavior group (standardized β, -0.18, 95% CI 0.24 to -0.11, p<0.0001). Significant differences in global surface area were also reported between an additional group, childhood-limited antisocial behavior, and low antisocial behavior groups (standardized β, -0.13, 95% CI -.20 to -.07, P<0.001). This study supports the neurodevelopmental taxonomy theory of antisocial behavior, such that significant differences in brain surface morphometry are present among individuals with life-course-persistent antisocial behaviors.

Click to read the study in Lancet Psychiatry

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