The relationship between brain structure and general psychopathology in preadolescents

Louise Mewton*, Briana Lees, Lindsay M. Squeglia, Miriam K. Forbes, Matthew Sunderland, Robert Krueger, Forrest C. Koch, Andrew Baillie, Tim Slade, Nicholas Hoy, Maree Teesson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: An emerging body of literature has indicated that broad, transdiagnostic dimensions of psychopathology are associated with alterations in brain structure across the life span. The current study aimed to investigate the relationship between brain structure and broad dimensions of psychopathology in the critical preadolescent period when psychopathology is emerging. Methods: This study included baseline data from the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study ® (n = 11,875; age range = 9–10 years; male = 52.2%). General psychopathology, externalizing, internalizing, and thought disorder dimensions were based on a higher-order model of psychopathology and estimated using Bayesian plausible values. Outcome variables included global and regional cortical volume, thickness, and surface area. Results: Higher levels of psychopathology across all dimensions were associated with lower volume and surface area globally, as well as widespread and pervasive alterations across the majority of cortical and subcortical regions studied, after adjusting for sex, race/ethnicity, parental education, income, and maternal psychopathology. The relationships between general psychopathology and brain structure were attenuated when adjusting for cognitive functioning. There were no statistically significant relationships between psychopathology and cortical thickness in this sample of preadolescents. Conclusions: The current study identified lower cortical volume and surface area as transdiagnostic biomarkers for general psychopathology in preadolescence. Future research may focus on whether the widespread and pervasive relationships between general psychopathology and brain structure reflect cognitive dysfunction that is a feature across a range of mental illnesses.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Early online date1 Sep 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Sep 2021


  • generalized psychopathology
  • externalizing
  • internalizing
  • brain structure
  • preadolescence

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