Sex Differences In Brain Structure of Boys and Girls With Conduct Disorder Interview with:

Areti Smaragdi, PhD University of Southampton Southampton, UK

Dr. Smaragdi

Areti Smaragdi, PhD
University of Southampton
Southampton, UK What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Conduct Disorder is a psychiatric disorder that involves severe antisocial behavior – symptoms of the condition include behaviors like physical fighting, pathological lying, and serious theft. The disorder affects around 5% of school-aged children and adolescents, and is up to three times more common in boys than girls. Because of this, very little research has focused on the possible brain basis of the disorder in girls.

We used MRI scanning methods to measure the brain structure of 48 boys and 48 girls with Conduct Disorder (14-18 years old) and 52 boys and 52 girls without severe antisocial behavior. We found that boys and girls with Conduct Disorder had reduced thickness and more folding in the prefrontal cortex, an area at the front of the brain which is responsible for reward and punishment processing and helping us to control our emotions and impulses. In contrast, in some other areas such as the superior frontal gyrus, which is involved in short-term memory, boys and girls with Conduct Disorder showed structural changes in opposite directions (e.g., more versus less folding) compared with controls. This suggests that there are common abnormalities in brain structure in boys and girls with Conduct Disorder, but also some sex differences that might indicate that the causes of the disorder are partly different in boys and girls. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: The findings indicate that the development of the brain – and particularly the prefrontal cortex – is disrupted in boys and girls with Conduct Disorder. In addition, the biological basis of Conduct Disorder may be partly sex-specific, that is, boys and girls with the condition may show different changes in brain structure which could mean that the causes of antisocial behavior are different in boys and girls (e.g., a greater role for genetics in boys, or different risk genes in boys and girls with Conduct Disorder). What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We recommend that future neuroimaging studies take the sex of the participants into account when in studying Conduct Disorder and other neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD, autism, and schizophrenia. We also believe that longitudinal research, tracking the development of the brain over time, is needed to fully understand how brain abnormalities give rise to severe antisocial behavior. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Sex Differences in the Relationship Between Conduct Disorder and Cortical Structure in Adolescent
Areti Smaragdi PhD et al
Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Volume 56, Issue 8, August 2017, Pages 703-712

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Last Updated on July 26, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD