Distinct brain structure and behavior related to ADHD and conduct disorder traits

Mol Psychiatry. 2018 Aug 14. doi: 10.1038/s41380-018-0202-6. Online ahead of print.


Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and conduct disorder (CD) exemplify top-down dysregulation conditions that show a large comorbidity and shared genetics. At the same time, they entail two different types of symptomology involving mainly non-emotional or emotional dysregulation. Few studies have tried to separate the specific biology underlying these two dimensions. It has also been suggested that both types of conditions consist of extreme cases in the general population where the symptoms are widely distributed. Here we test whether brain structure is specifically associated to ADHD or CD symptoms in a general population of adolescents (n = 1093) being part of the IMAGEN project. Both ADHD symptoms and CD symptoms were related to similar and overlapping MRI findings of a smaller structure in prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex. However, our regions of interest (ROI) approach indicated that gray matter volume (GMV) and surface area (SA) in dorsolateral/dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and caudal anterior cingulate cortex were negatively associated to ADHD symptoms when controlling for CD symptoms while rostral anterior cingulate cortex GMV was negatively associated to CD symptoms when controlling for ADHD symptoms. The structural findings were mirrored in performance of neuropsychological tests dependent on prefrontal and anterior cingulate regions, showing that while performance on the Stop Signal test was specifically related to the ADHD trait, delayed discounting and working memory were related to both ADHD and CD traits. These results point towards a partially domain specific and dimensional capacity in different top-down regulatory systems associated with ADHD and CD symptoms.