Irritability and brain volume in adolescents: Cross-sectional and longitudinal associations

Emily L. Dennis, Kathryn L. Humphreys, Lucy S. King, Paul M. Thompson, Ian H. Gotlib

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Irritability is garnering increasing attention in psychiatric research as a transdiagnostic marker of both internalizing and externalizing disorders. These disorders often emerge during adolescence, highlighting the need to examine changes in the brain and in psychological functioning during this developmental period. Adolescents were recruited for a longitudinal study examining the effects of early life stress on the development of psychopathology. The 151 adolescents (73 M/78 F, average age = 11.5 years, standard deviation = 1.1) were scanned with a T1-weighted MRI sequence and parents completed reports of adolescent irritability using the Affective Reactivity Index. Of these 151 adolescents, 94 (46 M/48 F) returned for a second session (average interval = 1.9 years, SD = 0.4). We used tensor-based morphometry to examine cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between irritability and regional brain volume. Irritability was associated with brain volume across a number of regions. More irritable individuals had larger hippocampi, insula, medial orbitofrontal cortex and cingulum/cingulate cortex and smaller putamen and internal capsule. Across the brain, more irritable individuals also had larger volume and less volume contraction in a number of areas that typically decrease in volume over the developmental period studied here, suggesting delayed maturation. These structural changes may increase adolescents' vulnerability for internalizing and externalizing disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)687-698
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number7
StatePublished - 3 Jul 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • brain structure
  • development
  • irritability
  • tensor-based morphometry


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