Objective: Adolescents with conduct disorder problems are, on average, at increased risk for a variety of unfortunate adult outcomes, including substance dependence. This study was designed to identify the neurophysiological correlates of different categories of conduct disorder problems as well as the relationship between these correlates and the maturational status of the brain.
Method: The subjects were 94 males, aged 14-19 years, recruited from the community. None were recruited from treatment or juvenile justice programs. The subjects varied in the type and number of conduct problem behaviors exhibited prior to age 15. Groups were operationally defined by the relative number (0 versus > or =1) of DSM-IV conduct disorder diagnostic criteria within each of four categories: rules violations, aggression, deceitfulness/theft, and destructiveness. Age was included as an additional grouping factor. P300 electroencephalographic potentials were recorded while subjects performed a task in which rare auditory stimuli were used to signal a change in stimulus-response mapping during a succeeding set of trials.
Results: Analyses revealed that boys with a history of rules violations failed to exhibit the normal maturational increase in P300 amplitude found in boys without a history of rules violations. Topographic analyses of current source densities suggest that the source of the maturational deficit involved P300 generators within the frontal brain. Parietal generators of P300 matured normally.
Conclusions: The present results are interpreted as reflecting a decrement in frontal brain maturation among boys potentially at risk for substance dependence, antisocial personality disorder, or other forms of adult psychopathology.