Adolescence is characterized by significant brain development and marks a period of the life span with an increased incidence of mood disorders, especially in females. The risk of developing mood disorders is also higher in individuals scoring high on neuroticism, a personality trait characterized by a tendency to experience negative and anxious emotions. We previously found in a cross-sectional study that neuroticism is associated with microstructural left-right asymmetry of the fronto-limbic white matter involved in emotional processing, with opposite effects in female and male adolescents. We now have extended this work collecting longitudinal data in 76 typically developing children and adolescents aged 7-18 years, including repeated MRI sampling up to 11 times. This enabled us, for the first time, to address the critical question, whether the association between neuroticism and frontal-limbic white matter asymmetry changes or remains stable across late childhood and adolescence. Neuroticism was assessed up to four times and showed good intraindividual stability and did not significantly change with age. Conforming our cross-sectional results, females scoring high on neuroticism displayed increased left-right cingulum fractional anisotropy (FA), while males showed decreased left-right cingulum FA asymmetry. Despite ongoing age-related increases in FA in cingulum, the association between neuroticism and cingulum FA asymmetry was already expressed in females in late childhood and remained stable across adolescence. In males, the association appeared to become more prominent during adolescence. Future longitudinal studies need to cover an earlier age span to elucidate the time point at which the relationship between neuroticism and cingulum FA asymmetry arises.
Keywords: DTI; adolescence; cingulum asymmetry; fractional anisotropy; neuroticism; sex differences.
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