News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

The speed of technology in neuroscience as it impacts ethical and just decisions in the legal system needs to be understood by lawyers, judges, public policy makers, and the general public. The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is an academic and professional resource for the education, research, and understanding of neuroscience and the law. Read more

The Relations of Age and Pubertal Development with Cortisol and Daily Stress in Youth at Clinical Risk for Psychosis

By Danielle M. Moskow, Jean Addington, Carrie E. Bearden, Kristin S. Cadenhead, Barbara A. Cornblatt, Robert Heinssen, Daniel H. Mathalon, Thomas H. McGlashan, Diana O. Perkins, Larry J. Seidman, Ming T. Tsuang, Tyrone D. Cannon, Scott W. Woods, and Elaine F. Walker | Schizophrenia Research | February 20, 2016

Abstract:

Background

Prodromal syndromes often begin in adolescence — a period of neurodevelopmental changes and heightened stress sensitivity. Research has shown elevated stress and cortisol in individuals at clinical high risk (CHR) for psychosis. This cross-sectional study examined relations of age and pubertal status with cortisol and self-reported stress in healthy controls (HCs) and CHR adolescents. It was hypothesized that the relations of age and pubertal stage with cortisol and stress would be more pronounced in CHR youth.

Methods

Participants were 93 HCs and 348 CHR adolescents from the North American Prodrome Longitudinal Study (NAPLS). At baseline, measures of stress (Daily Stress Inventory — DSI), Tanner stage (TS), and salivary cortisol were obtained.

Results

ANCOVA revealed increased DSI scores with age for both groups, and higher DSI scores in CHR adolescents than HCs, with a more pronounced difference for females. Contrary to prediction, with age controlled, HCs showed greater TS-related DSI increases. Analysis of cortisol showed no significant interactions, but a main effect of age and a trend toward higher cortisol in the CHR group. Correlations of cortisol with TS were higher in HC than CHR group.

Conclusions

Stress measures increased with age in HC and CHR adolescents, and DSI scores also increased with TS in HCs. The results do not support a more pronounced age or TS increase in stress measures in CHR adolescents, but instead suggest that stress indices tend to be elevated earlier in adolescence in the CHR group. Potential determinants of findings and future directions are discussed.

Read the full paper here.

Healthy Adolescent Performance on the MATRICS Consensus Cognitive Battery (MCCB): Developmental Data from Two Samples of Volunteers

By William S. Stone, Raquelle I. Mesholam-Gately, Anthony J. Giuliano, Kristen A. Woodberry, Jean Addington, Carrie E. Bearden, Kristin S. Cadenhead, Tyrone D. Cannon, Barbara A. Cornblatt, Daniel H. Mathalon, Thomas H. McGlashan, Diana O. Perkins, Ming T. Tsuang, Elaine F. Walker, Scott W. Woods, Robert W. McCarley, Robert Heinssen, Michael F. Green, Keith Nuechterlein, and Larry J. Seidman | Schizophrenia Research | February 16, 2016

Abstract:

The MATRICS Consensus Cognitive Battery (MCCB) fills a significant need for a standardized battery of cognitive tests to use in clinical trials for schizophrenia in adults aged 20–59. A need remains, however, to develop norms for younger individuals, who also show elevated risks for schizophrenia. Toward this end, we assessed performance in healthy adolescents. Baseline MCCB, reading and IQ data were obtained from healthy controls (ages 12–19) participating in two concurrent NIMH-funded studies: North American Prodromal Longitudinal Study phase 2 (NAPLS-2; n = 126) and Boston Center for Intervention Development and Applied Research (CIDAR; n = 13). All MCCB tests were administered except the Managing Emotions subtest from the Mayer–Salovey–Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test. Data were collected from 8 sites across North America. MCCB scores were presented in four 2-year age cohorts as T-scores for each test and cognitive domain, and analyzed for effects of age and sex. Due to IQ differences between age-grouped subsamples, IQ served as a covariate in analyses. Overall and sex-based raw scores for individual MCCB tests are presented for each age-based cohort. Adolescents generally showed improvement with age in most MCCB cognitive domains, with the clearest linear trends in Attention/Vigilance and Working Memory. These control data show that healthy adolescence is a dynamic period for cognitive development that is marked by substantial improvement in MCCB performance through the 12–19 age range. They also provide healthy comparison raw scores to facilitate clinical evaluations of adolescents, including those at risk for developing psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia-related conditions.

Read the entire paper here.

Habitual Reappraisal in Context: Peer Victimization Moderates its Association with Physiological Reactivity to Social Stress

By Kara A. Christensen, Amelia Aldao, Margaret A. Sheridan, and Katie A. McLaughlin | Cognition and Emotion | September 2015

Abstract:

Although the emotion regulation strategy of reappraisal has been associated with adaptive outcomes (e.g., Aldao et al., 2010), there is growing evidence that it may not be adaptive in all contexts (Troy et al., 2013). In the present study, adolescents reported their use of habitual reappraisal and their experiences with peer victimization, a chronic stressor that has significant associations with reduced well-being in this population. We examined how these variables predicted physiological reactivity (vagal withdrawal and changes in pre-ejection period) during a social stressor (i.e., Trier Social Stress Task; Kirschbaum et al., 1993). In line with the findings by Troy et al., (2013), at high levels of victimization, habitual reappraisal positively predicted adaptive physiological reactivity (i.e., greater vagal withdrawal). Conversely, at low levels of victimization, habitual reappraisal negatively predicted maladaptive physiological reactivity (i.e., blunted vagal withdrawal). These findings were specific to parasympathetic reactivity. They suggest that habitual reappraisal may exert different effects on parasympathetic reactivity depending on the presence of stressors, and highlight the importance of examining the role of contextual factors in determining the adaptiveness of ER processes.

Read the full article here.

Variation in CACNA1C is Associated with Amygdala Structure and Function in Adolescents

By Jennifer A. Sumner, Margaret A. Sheridan, Stacy S. Drury, Kyle C. Esteves, Kate Walsh, Karestan C. Koenen, and Katie A. McLaughlin | Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology | September 24, 2015

Abstract:

Objective: Genome-wide association studies have identified allelic variation in CACNA1C as a risk factor for multiple psychiatric disorders associated with limbic system dysfunction, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression. The CACNA1C gene codes for a subunit of L-type voltage-gated calcium channels, which modulate amygdala function. Although CACNA1C genotype appears to be associated with amygdala morphology and function in adults with and without psychopathology, whether genetic variation influences amygdala structure and function earlier in development has not been examined.

Methods: In this first investigation of the neural correlates of CACNA1C in young individuals, we examined associations between two single nucleotide polymorphisms in CACNA1C (rs1006737 and rs4765914) with amygdala volume and activation during an emotional processing task in 58 adolescents and young adults 13–20 years of age.

Results: Minor (T) allele carriers of rs4765914 exhibited smaller amygdala volume than major (C) allele homozygotes (β=−0.33, p=0.006). Furthermore, minor (A) allele homozygotes of rs1006737 exhibited increased blood–oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal in the amygdala when viewing negative (vs. neutral) stimuli (β=0.29, p=0.040) and decreased BOLD signal in the amygdala when instructed to downregulate their emotional response to negative stimuli (β=−0.38, p=0.009). Follow-up analyses indicated that childhood trauma did not moderate the associations of CACNA1C variation with amygdala structure and function (ps>0.170).

Conclusions: Findings indicate that CACNA1C-related differences in amygdala structure and function are present by adolescence. However, population stratification is a concern, given the racial/ethnic heterogeneity of our sample, and our findings do not have direct clinical implications currently. Nevertheless, these results suggest that developmentally informed research can begin to shed light on the time course by which genetic liability may translate into neural differences associated with vulnerability to psychopathology.

Read the full article here.

The Problem With Teens Is That They’re Just Too Rational

By Nancy Shute | NPR | September 9, 2015

Teenagers get dissed for being irrational and making bad decisions, which can lead to very bad things, like drunken driving, risky sex and drug use.

But what if the problem is really that teens are just a little too rational?  Continue reading »