Conduct disorder (CD) in females is associated with negative adult outcomes including mental health problems and personality disorders. Although recent neuroimaging studies have reported changes in neural activity during facial emotion processing in males with CD or callous-unemotional (CU) traits, there have been no neuroimaging studies specifically assessing females with CD. We addressed this gap by investigating whether female adolescents with CD show atypical neural activation when processing emotional or neutral faces.
We acquired functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data from 20 female adolescents with CD and 20 female control participants while they viewed angry, sad, and neutral faces.
An omnibus group (CD, control) by facial emotion (angry, sad, neutral) analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed main effects of facial emotion in superior temporal cortex, fusiform gyrus, ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and insula, and main effects of group in medial orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and right anterior insula. Female participants with CD showed reduced medial OFC and increased anterior insula responses relative to healthy controls. There were no significant group × facial emotion interactions. Lifetime CD symptoms were negatively correlated with amygdala, superior temporal cortex, fusiform gyrus, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activity for the contrast “all-faces versus fixation.” CU traits were negatively correlated with fusiform gyrus activity for the contrast sad versus neutral faces.
Females with CD showed atypical neural activation during the processing of all facial expressions, irrespective of valence. Our results demonstrate that severity of CD symptoms and CU traits is important in explaining abnormal patterns of neural activity.
Key Words : CD, CU traits, females, face processing, fMRI
| Supplemental material cited in this article is available online.
| This article was reviewed under and accepted by deputy editor Ellen Leibenluft, M.D.
| This research was funded by project grant 083140 from the Wellcome Trust (G.F. and I.M.G.) and Medical Research Council project code MC_US_A060_5PQ50 (A.J.C.). This work was completed within the National Institute of Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
| Rik Henson, PhD, of University of Cambridge served as a consultant on the design of the functional magnetic resonance imaging task.
| The authors thank the participants and their parents for taking part in the study. The authors also thank the schools, pupil referral units, and the Cambridge Youth Offending Service for their help with recruitment.
| Disclosures: Drs. Fairchild, Hagan, Passamonti, Walsh, Goodyer, and Calder report no biomedical financial interests or potential conflicts of interest.