Sex differences across developmental domains among children with a familial risk of severe mental disorders

Psychol Med. 2022 Feb 14;1-16. doi: 10.1017/S0033291722000265. Online ahead of print.


Background: Sex differences in brain structure and neurodevelopment occur in non-clinical populations. We investigated whether sex had a similar effect on developmental domains amongst boys and girls with a familial risk of schizophrenia (FHR-SZ), bipolar disorder (FHR-BP), and controls.

Methods: Through Danish registries, we identified 522 7-year-old children (242 girls) with FHR-SZ, FHR-BP, and controls. We assessed their performance within the domains of neurocognition, motor function, language, social cognition, social behavior, psychopathology, and home environment.

Results: FHR-SZ boys compared with FHR-SZ girls had a higher proportion of disruptive behavior and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and exhibited lower performance in manual dexterity, balance, and emotion recognition. No sex differences were found between boys and girls within FHR-BP group. Compared with controls, both FHR-SZ boys and FHR-SZ girls showed impaired processing speed and working memory, had lower levels of global functioning, and were more likely to live in an inadequate home environment. Compared with control boys, FHR-SZ boys showed impaired manual dexterity, social behavior, and social responsiveness, and had a higher proportion of ADHD and disruptive behavior disorder diagnoses. Stress and adjustment disorders were more common in FHR-BP boys compared with control boys. We found no differences between FHR-BP girls and control girls.

Conclusions: Impairment within neurodevelopmental domains associated within FHR-SZ boys v. FHR-SZ girls was most evident among boys, whereas no sex differences were found within the FHR-BP group (FHR-BP boys v. FHR-BP girls). FHR-SZ boys exhibited the highest proportion of early developmental impairments.

Keywords: Bipolar disorder; motor; neurocognition; psychopathology; schizophrenia; sex.