Background: The biological basis of severe antisocial behaviour in adolescents is poorly understood. We recently reported that adolescents with conduct disorder (CD) have significantly increased fractional anisotropy (FA) of the uncinate fasciculus (a white matter (WM) tract that connects the amygdala to the frontal lobe) compared to their non-CD peers. However, the extent of WM abnormality in other brain regions is currently unclear.
Methods: We used tract-based spatial statistics to investigate whole brain WM microstructural organisation in 27 adolescent males with CD, and 21 non-CD controls. We also examined relationships between FA and behavioural measures. Groups did not differ significantly in age, ethnicity, or substance use history.
Results: The CD group, compared to controls, had clusters of significantly greater FA in 7 brain regions corresponding to: 1) the bilateral inferior and superior cerebellar peduncles, corticopontocerebellar tract, posterior limb of internal capsule, and corticospinal tract; 2) right superior longitudinal fasciculus; and 3) left cerebellar WM. Severity of antisocial behavior and callous-unemotional symptoms were significantly correlated with FA in several of these regions across the total sample, but not in the CD or control groups alone.
Conclusions: Adolescents with CD have significantly greater FA than controls in WM regions corresponding predominantly to the fronto-cerebellar circuit. There is preliminary evidence that variation in WM microstructure may be dimensionally related to behaviour problems in youngsters. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that antisocial behaviour in some young people is associated with abnormalities in WM 'connectivity'.