Shared pattern of impaired social communication and cognitive ability in the youth brain across diagnostic boundaries

Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2023 Apr:60:101219. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2023.101219. Epub 2023 Feb 18.


Background: Abnormalities in brain structure are shared across diagnostic categories. Given the high rate of comorbidity, the interplay of relevant behavioural factors may also cross these classic boundaries.

Methods: We aimed to detect brain-based dimensions of behavioural factors using canonical correlation and independent component analysis in a clinical youth sample (n = 1732, 64 % male, age: 5-21 years).

Results: We identified two correlated patterns of brain structure and behavioural factors. The first mode reflected physical and cognitive maturation (r = 0.92, p = .005). The second mode reflected lower cognitive ability, poorer social skills, and psychological difficulties (r = 0.92, p = .006). Elevated scores on the second mode were a common feature across all diagnostic boundaries and linked to the number of comorbid diagnoses independently of age. Critically, this brain pattern predicted normative cognitive deviations in an independent population-based sample (n = 1253, 54 % female, age: 8-21 years), supporting the generalisability and external validity of the reported brain-behaviour relationships.

Conclusions: These results reveal dimensions of brain-behaviour associations across diagnostic boundaries, highlighting potent disorder-general patterns as the most prominent. In addition to providing biologically informed patterns of relevant behavioural factors for mental illness, this contributes to a growing body of evidence in favour of transdiagnostic approaches to prevention and intervention.

Keywords: Behavior; Brain; Multivariate; Psychopathology; Risk; Youth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition
  • Communication
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders* / psychology
  • Young Adult