Anxiety, depression, impulsivity, and brain structure in children and adolescents

Neuroimage Clin. 2018 Jul 24:20:243-251. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2018.07.020. eCollection 2018.


The unique neuroanatomical underpinnings of internalizing symptoms and impulsivity during childhood are not well understood. In this study, we examined associations of brain structure with anxiety, depression, and impulsivity in children and adolescents. Participants were 7- to 21-year-olds (N = 328) from the Pediatric Imaging, Neurocognition, and Genetics (PING) study who completed high-resolution, 3-Tesla, T1-weighted MRI and self-report measures of anxiety, depression, and/or impulsivity. Cortical thickness and surface area were examined across cortical regions-of-interest (ROIs), and exploratory whole-brain analyses were also conducted. Gray matter volume (GMV) was examined in subcortical ROIs. When considered separately, higher depressive symptoms and impulsivity were each significantly associated with reduced cortical thickness in ventromedial PFC/medial OFC, but when considered simultaneously, only depressive symptoms remained significant. Higher impulsivity, but not depressive symptoms, was associated with reduced cortical thickness in the frontal pole, rostral middle frontal gyrus, and pars orbitalis. No differences were found for regional surface area. Higher depressive symptoms, but not impulsivity, were significantly associated with smaller hippocampal GMV and larger pallidal GMV. There were no significant associations between anxiety symptoms and brain structure. Depressive symptoms and impulsivity may be linked with cortical thinning in overlapping and distinct regions during childhood and adolescence.

Keywords: Anxiety; Cortical thickness; Depression; Impulsivity; Subcortical volume.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior* / physiology
  • Adolescent Behavior* / psychology
  • Anxiety / diagnostic imaging*
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Child Behavior* / physiology
  • Child Behavior* / psychology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / diagnostic imaging*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior* / physiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Young Adult