Gray matter morphometry studies have lent seminal insights into the etiology of mental illness. Existing research has primarily focused on adults and then, typically on a single disorder. Examining brain characteristics in late childhood, when the brain is preparing to undergo significant adolescent reorganization and various forms of serious psychopathology are just first emerging, may allow for a unique and highly important perspective of overlapping and unique pathogenesis.
A total of 8645 youth were recruited as part of the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development study. Magnetic resonance imaging scans were collected, and psychotic-like experiences (PLEs), depressive, and anxiety symptoms were assessed three times over a 2-year period. Cortical thickness, surface area, and subcortical volume were used to predict baseline symptomatology and symptom progression over time.
Some features could possibly signal common vulnerability, predicting progression across forms of psychopathology (e.g. superior frontal and middle temporal regions). However, there was a specific predictive value for emerging PLEs (lateral occipital and precentral thickness), anxiety (parietal thickness/area and cingulate), and depression (e.g. parahippocampal and inferior temporal).
Findings indicate common and distinct patterns of vulnerability for varying forms of psychopathology are present during late childhood, before the adolescent reorganization, and have direct relevance for informing novel conceptual models along with early prevention and intervention efforts.