Background: Depressive symptoms are highly prevalent, present in heterogeneous symptom patterns, and share diverse neurobiological underpinnings. Understanding the links between psychopathological symptoms and biological factors is critical in elucidating its etiology and persistence. We aimed to evaluate the utility of using symptom-brain network models to parse the heterogeneity of depressive complaints in a large adolescent sample. Methods: We used data from the third wave of the IMAGEN study, a multi-center panel cohort study involving 1317 adolescents (52.49 % female, mean ± SD age = 18.5 ± 0.7). Two network models were estimated: one including an overall depressive symptom severity sum score based on the Adolescent Depression Rating Scale (ADRS), and one incorporating individual ADRS item scores. Both networks included measures of cortical thickness in several regions (insula, cingulate, mOFC, fusiform gyrus) and hippocampal volume derived from neuroimaging. Results: The network based on individual item scores revealed associations between cortical thickness measures and specific depressive complaints, obscured when using an aggregate depression severity score. Notably, the insula's cortical thickness showed negative associations with cognitive dysfunction (partial cor. = −0.15); the cingulate's cortical thickness showed negative associations with feelings of worthlessness (partial cor. = −0.10), and mOFC was negatively associated with anhedonia (partial cor. = −0.05). Limitations: This cross-sectional study relied on the self-reported assessment of depression complaints and used a non-clinical sample with predominantly healthy participants (19 % with depression or sub-threshold depression). Conclusions: This study showcases the utility of network models in parsing heterogeneity in depressive complaints, linking individual complaints to specific neural substrates. We outline the next steps to integrate neurobiological and cognitive markers to unravel MDD's phenotypic heterogeneity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140-144
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Early online date14 May 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 May 2024


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