Youth with elevated psychopathic traits exhibit structural integrity deficits in the uncinate fasciculus

Neuroimage Clin. 2020 Mar 5;26:102236. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2020.102236. Online ahead of print.


Youth with elevated psychopathic traits represent a particularly severe subgroup of adolescents characterized by extreme behavioral problems and exhibit comparable neurocognitive deficits as adult offenders with psychopathic traits. A consistent finding among adults with elevated psychopathic traits is reduced white matter structural integrity of the right uncinate fasciculus (UF). The UF is a major white matter tract that connects regions of the anterior temporal lobe (i.e., the amygdala) to higher-order executive control regions, including the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. However, the relationship between youth psychopathic traits and structural integrity of the UF has been mixed, with some studies identifying a negative relationship between adolescent psychopathy scores and FA in the UF, and others identifying a positive relationship. Here, we investigated structural integrity of the left and right UF using fractional anisotropy (FA) in a large sample of n = 254 male adolescent offenders recruited from maximum-security juvenile correctional facilities. Psychopathic traits were assessed using the Hare Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version (PCL:YV). Consistent with hypotheses, interpersonal and affective traits (i.e., PCL:YV Factor 1 and Facet 1 scores) were associated with reduced FA in the right UF. Additionally, lifestyle traits (i.e., PCL:YV Facet 3 scores) were associated with increased FA in the left UF. Results are consistent with previously published studies reporting reduced FA in the right UF in adult psychopathic offenders and increased left UF FA in youth meeting criteria for certain externalizing disorders.

Keywords: Callous-unemotional traits; Diffusion tensor imaging; Fractional anisotropy; Juvenile delinquency; Uncinate fasciculus.