Anatomy of the dorsal default-mode network in conduct disorder: Association with callous-unemotional traits

Arjun Sethi, Sagari Sarkar, Flavio Dell'Acqua, Essi Viding, Marco Catani, Declan G M Murphy, Michael C Craig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We recently reported that emotional detachment in adult psychopathy was associated with structural abnormalities in the dorsal 'default-mode' network (DMN). However, it is unclear whether these differences are present in young people at risk of psychopathy. The most widely recognised group at risk for psychopathy are children/adolescents with conduct disorder (CD) and callous-unemotional (CU) traits. We therefore examined the microstructure of the dorsal DMN in 27 CD youths (14-with/13-without CU traits) compared to 16 typically developing controls using DTI tractography. Both CD groups had significantly (p < 0.025) reduced dorsal DMN radial diffusivity compared to controls. In those with diagnostically significant CU traits, exploratory analyses (uncorrected for multiple comparisons) suggested that radial diffusivity was negatively correlated with CU severity (Left: rho = -0.68, p = 0.015). These results suggest that CD youths have microstructural abnormalities in the same network as adults with psychopathy. Further, the association with childhood/adolescent measures of emotional detachment (CU traits) resembles the relationship between emotional detachment and network microstructure in adult psychopaths. However, these changes appear to occur in opposite directions - with increased myelination in adolescent CD but reduced integrity in adult psychopathy. Collectively, these findings suggest that developmental abnormalities in dorsal DMN may play a role in the emergence of psychopathy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-92
Number of pages6
JournalDevelopmental cognitive neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2018


  • Adolescent
  • Affective Symptoms/diagnostic imaging
  • Child
  • Conduct Disorder/diagnostic imaging
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging/methods
  • Gyrus Cinguli/anatomy & histology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nerve Net/anatomy & histology

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