Structural Brain Connectivity in Childhood Disruptive Behavior Problems: A Multidimensional Approach

TitleStructural Brain Connectivity in Childhood Disruptive Behavior Problems: A Multidimensional Approach
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsBolhuis, K, Muetzel, RL, Stringaris, A, Hudziak, JJ, Jaddoe, VWV, Hillegers, MHJ, White, T, Kushner, SA, Tiemeier, H
JournalBiological PsychiatryBiological Psychiatry
Date Published08/2018
ISBN Number0006-3223


Studies of white matter connectivity in children with disruptive behavior have yielded inconsistent results, possibly owing to the trait's heterogeneity, which comprises diverse symptoms like physical aggression, irritability, and delinquency. This study examined associations of global and specific white matter connectivity with childhood disruptive behavior problems, while accounting for their complex multidimensionality.


In a large cross-sectional population-based study of 10-year-old preadolescents (n = 2567), we assessed four previously described empirically derived dimensions of disruptive behavior problems using the Child Behavior Checklist: physical aggression, irritability, disobedient behavior, and delinquent behavior. Global and specific white matter microstructure was assessed by diffusion tensor imaging.


Global fractional anisotropy and mean diffusivity were not associated with broad measures of disruptive behavior, e.g., Child Behavior Checklist externalizing problems scale. Global fractional anisotropy was negatively associated with delinquent behavior (β = -.123, pfalse discovery rate adjusted = .028) and global mean diffusivity was positively associated with delinquent behavior (β = .205, pfalse discovery rate adjusted < 0.001), suggesting reduced white matter microstructure in preadolescents with higher levels of delinquent behavior. Lower white matter microstructure in the inferior longitudinal fasciculus, superior longitudinal fasciculus, cingulum, and uncinate underlie these associations. Global white matter microstructure was not associated with physical aggression, irritability, or disobedient behavior.


Delinquent behavior, a severe manifestation of childhood disruptive behavior, was associated with lower white matter microstructure in tracts connecting frontal and temporal lobes. These brain regions are involved in decision making, reward processing, and emotion regulation. This study demonstrated that incorporating the multidimensional nature of childhood disruptive behavior traits shows promise in advancing the search for elucidating neurobiological correlates of disruptive behavior.