The role of brain structure in the association between pubertal timing and depression risk in an early adolescent sample (the ABCD Study®): A registered report

Niamh MacSweeney, Judith Allardyce, Amelia Edmondson-Stait, Xueyi Shen, Hannah Casey, Stella W Y Chan, Breda Cullen, Rebecca M Reynolds, Sophia Frangou, Alex S F Kwong, Stephen M Lawrie, Liana Romaniuk, Heather C Whalley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

BACKGROUND: Earlier pubertal timing is associated with higher rates of depressive disorders in adolescence. Neuroimaging studies report brain structural associations with both pubertal timing and depression. However, whether brain structure mediates the relationship between pubertal timing and depression remains unclear.

METHODS: The current registered report examined associations between pubertal timing (indexed via perceived pubertal development), brain structure (cortical and subcortical metrics, and white matter microstructure) and depressive symptoms in a large sample (N = ∼5000) of adolescents (aged 9-13 years) from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study. We used three waves of follow-up data when the youth were aged 10-11 years, 11-12 years, and 12-13 years, respectively. We used generalised linear-mixed models (H1) and structural equation modelling (H2 & H3) to test our hypotheses.

HYPOTHESES: We hypothesised that earlier pubertal timing at Year 1 would be associated with increased depressive symptoms at Year 3 (H1), and that this relationship would be mediated by global (H2a-b) and regional (H3a-g) brain structural measures at Year 2. Global measures included reduced cortical volume, thickness, surface area and sulcal depth. Regional measures included reduced cortical thickness and volume in temporal and fronto-parietal areas, increased cortical volume in the ventral diencephalon, increased sulcal depth in the pars orbitalis, and reduced fractional anisotropy in the cortico-striatal tract and corpus callosum. These regions of interest were informed by our pilot analyses using baseline ABCD data when the youth were aged 9-10 years.

RESULTS: Earlier pubertal timing was associated with increased depressive symptoms two years later. The magnitude of effect was stronger in female youth and the association remained significant when controlling for parental depression, family income, and BMI in females but not in male youth. Our hypothesised brain structural measures did not however mediate the association between earlier pubertal timing and later depressive symptoms.

CONCLUSION: The present results demonstrate that youth, particularly females, who begin puberty ahead of their peers are at an increased risk for adolescent-onset depression. Future work should explore additional biological and socio-environmental factors that may affect this association so that we can identify targets for intervention to help these at-risk youth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101223
JournalDevelopmental Cognitive Neuroscience
Early online date24 Feb 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Feb 2023


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