Different whole-brain functional connectivity correlates of reactive-proactive aggression and callous-unemotional traits in children and adolescents with disruptive behaviors

Julia E. Werhahn, Lukasz Smigielski, Seda Sacu, Susanna Mohl, David Willinger, Jilly Naaijen, Leandra M. Mulder, Jeffrey C. Glennon, Pieter J. Hoekstra, Andrea Dietrich, Renee Kleine Deters, Pascal M. Aggensteiner, Nathalie E. Holz, Sarah Baumeister, Tobias Banaschewski, Melanie C. Saam, Ulrike M.E. Schulze, David J. Lythgoe, Arjun Sethi, Michael CraigMathilde Mastroianni, Ilyas Sagar-Ouriaghli, Paramala J. Santosh, Mireia Rosa, Nuria Bargallo, Josefina Castro-Fornieles, Celso Arango, Maria J. Penzol, Marcel P. Zwiers, Barbara Franke, Jan K. Buitelaar, Susanne Walitza, Daniel Brandeis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Disruptive behavior in children and adolescents can manifest as reactive aggression and proactive aggression and is modulated by callous-unemotional traits and other comorbidities. Neural correlates of these aggression dimensions or subtypes and comorbid symptoms remain largely unknown. This multi-center study investigated the relationship between resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) and aggression subtypes considering comorbidities. Methods: The large sample of children and adolescents aged 8–18 years (n = 207; mean age = 13.30±2.60 years, 150 males) included 118 cases with disruptive behavior (80 with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and/or Conduct Disorder) and 89 controls. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety symptom scores were analyzed as covariates when assessing group differences and dimensional aggression effects on hypothesis-free global and local voxel-to-voxel whole-brain rsFC based on functional magnetic resonance imaging at 3 Tesla. Results: Compared to controls, the cases demonstrated altered rsFC in frontal areas, when anxiety but not ADHD symptoms were controlled for. For cases, reactive and proactive aggression scores were related to global and local rsFC in the central gyrus and precuneus, regions linked to aggression-related impairments. Callous-unemotional trait severity was correlated with ICC in the inferior and middle temporal regions implicated in empathy, emotion, and reward processing. Most observed aggression subtype-specific patterns could only be identified when ADHD and anxiety were controlled for. Conclusions: This study clarifies that hypothesis-free brain connectivity measures can disentangle distinct though overlapping dimensions of aggression in youths. Moreover, our results highlight the importance of considering comorbid symptoms to detect aggression-related rsFC alterations in youths.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103542
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
Early online date13 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Adolescents
  • Callous-unemotional traits
  • Children
  • Proactive aggression
  • Reactive aggression
  • Resting-state fMRI


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