fMRI measures may predict psychiatric symptoms in children

Understanding the neurodevelopmental trajectory of psychiatric symptoms.

Can brain imaging predict future psychiatric symptoms in children?

To find out the answer, scientists determined whether the strength of the coupling of activation between specific brain regions, as measured by resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), predicted individual children’s developmental trajectories in terms of attentional problems characteristic of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and internalizing problems characteristics of major depressive disorder (MDD). 

Susan Whitfield-Gabrieli, Ph.D., from the University of California, Berkeley, and partners enrolled in a community cohort of 94 kids between 2010 and 2013. Participants were followed up longitudinally for four years. The association between specific brain connectivity patterns, estimated by resting-state fMRI, and children’s developmental directions was inspected.

Scientists found that resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measures may be able to predict symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or major depressive disorder in children.

Scientists found that less positive coupling between the medial prefrontal cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) at age seven years was associated with a decrease in attentional symptoms at age 11. Interestingly, a less favorable coupling between the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC), a district embroiled in mood, and DLPFC at age seven years was related to an expansion in internalizing practices at age 11.

For progression to a subclinical score on internalization, sgACC-DLPFC connectivity was a more accurate predictor than baseline Child Behavior Checklist measures. This result was replicated and extended in an independent sample of children with and without (25 and 18 children, respectively) familial risk for major depressive disorder.

Scientists noted, “These findings illustrate the idea that the neurobiological seeds of future psychopathology are becoming visible and measurable in children.”

The study is published online Dec. 26 in JAMA Psychiatry.

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