Brain imaging findings in children and adolescents with mental disorders: a cross-sectional review

Eur Psychiatry. 2010 Oct;25(6):345-54. doi: 10.1016/j.eurpsy.2010.04.010.


Background: While brain imaging studies of juvenile patients has expanded in recent years to investigate the cerebral neurophysiologic correlates of psychiatric disorders, this research field remains scarce. The aim of the present review was to cluster the main mental disorders according to the differential brain location of the imaging findings recently reported in children and adolescents reports. A second objective was to describe the worldwide distribution and the main directions of the recent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron tomography (PET) studies in these patients.

Methods: A survey of 423 MRI and PET articles published between 2005 and 2008 was performed. A principal component analysis (PCA), then an activation likelihood estimate (ALE) meta-analysis, were applied on brain regional information retrieved from articles in order to cluster the various disorders with respect to the cerebral structures where alterations were reported. Furthermore, descriptive analysis characterized the literature production.

Results: Two hundred and seventy-four articles involving children and adolescent patients were analyzed. Both the PCA and ALE methods clustered, three groups of diagnosed psychiatric disorders, according to the brain structural and functional locations: one group of affective disorders characterized by abnormalities of the frontal-limbic regions; a group of mental disorders with "cognition deficits" mainly related to cortex abnormalities; and one psychomotor condition associated with abnormalities in the basal ganglia. The descriptive analysis indicates a focus on attention deficit hyperactivity disorders and autism spectrum disorders, a general steady rise in the number of annual reports, and lead of US research.

Conclusion: This cross-sectional review of child and adolescent mental disorders based on neuroimaging findings suggests overlaps of brain locations that allow to cluster the diagnosed disorders into three sets with respectively marked affective, cognitive, and psychomotor phenomenology. Furthermore, the brain imaging research effort was unequally distributed across disorders, and did not reflect their prevalence.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / diagnostic imaging
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / pathology
  • Autistic Disorder / diagnostic imaging
  • Autistic Disorder / pathology
  • Basal Ganglia / metabolism
  • Basal Ganglia / pathology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Child
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Cognition Disorders / pathology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Frontal Lobe / metabolism
  • Frontal Lobe / pathology
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / metabolism
  • Limbic System / pathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Mental Disorders / diagnostic imaging*
  • Mental Disorders / metabolism
  • Mental Disorders / pathology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mood Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Mood Disorders / pathology
  • Positron-Emission Tomography*
  • Psychomotor Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Psychomotor Disorders / pathology