Last updated on August 2018

The Psychobiology of Childhood Temperament


Brief description of study

The purpose of this study is to use brain imaging technology to examine brain changes that occur in children when they are exposed to various kinds of emotional tasks and to determine if these changes are related to the child's temperament.

Studies suggest that the risk for developing mood and anxiety disorders in preschool children may be linked to differences in temperament. The relationship between temperament and risk or resilience may reflect the influences of brain activity on behavior at different stages of childhood development. Behavioral inhibition and mood or anxiety disorders have been linked to disturbances in the circuitry of several areas in the brain. However, the involvement of this circuitry in temperament remains unclear. This study will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the function of different parts of the brain in children who have previously undergone temperament studies and have had their temperaments classified.

Two sets of studies will be performed in the current protocol. A small set of pilot studies will be performed in infants, by staff at the University of Maryland. In terms of the studies among infants, these subjects will initially be contacted by staff at Maryland and then will be seen at the NIH for up to three visits lasting between 4- to 5- hours during the first year of life. These subjects also will undergo visits at the University of Maryland throughout the first year of life.

This study will comprise up to four clinic visits. At Visit 1, children and their parents will meet with study staff individually and together for psychiatric interviews. Children will undergo a physical examination, medical history, a urine drug test, and practice in an fMRI simulator. Saliva samples will be collected from the children and tests will be given to assess stage of puberty, temperament, intelligence, feelings, experiences, and behavior. Other visits include fMRI scans of the brain and other tasks.

Detailed Study Description

Objectives: The goal of this proposal is to study temperament and risk-taking as vulnerability factors for anxiety. Studies have documented that behaviorally inhibited (BI) children are at risk for anxiety disorders. This vulnerability may be associated with neural circuits underlying behavioral tendencies, such as components of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), striatum, and amygdala. Regarding risk-taking behavior, certain high risk-taking adolescents also carry enhanced vulnerability to anxiety. We use fMRI to examine local activity in PFC, cingulate, amygdala, and striatum, and functional connectivity with resting state methodology in two cohorts, one probing temperament and the other one risk-taking.

Study Population: A total of 1010 individuals/ infants (0-25 yo) will be studied. This sample comprises 2 sets of study groups. First, the BI group includes individuals with (1) high motor arousal/high negative affect in early infancy to novelty and sustained BI (BI), (2) high motor arousal/high positive affect to novelty and sustained temperamental exuberance (exuberant), (3) average levels of both reactivity/affect from infancy to childhood (controls). Second, the risk-taking group includes 4 subgroups representing the interaction of two levels of anxiety (low, high) and two levels of risk-taking (low, high). Finally, a group of healthy individuals will be recruited as controls.

Design: Assessments will include psychiatric, behavioral, and neuropsychological batteries. The protocol uses fMRI paradigms targeting different emotional, social, cognitive, motivational, and learning processes during activation studies, as well as the intrinsic function of the brain measured during a resting state.

Outcome Measures and Predictions: The main outcome measures are fMRI BOLD signal changes, physiological, neuropsychological and behavioral variables. The proposed fMRI studies will test 2 sets of hypotheses. The first refers to the BI cohort. BI subjects will exhibit (1) enhanced amygdala activation to mild threats (e.g., angry facial), (2) PFC perturbations in associative learning, (3) abnormal fronto-amygdala connectivity, (4) heightened striatal and inferior PFC activation to reward stimuli, (5) unique neural patterns of attention bias and social challenges, (6) differential changes with age as a function of BI status (7) infants of differing temperaments will exhibit structural and functional differences in brain regions associated with salience and ventral attention networks. The second set of hypotheses pertains to the risk-taking cohort. (1) anxious adolescents will activate striatal regions in response to reward more strongly than non-anxious adolescents; (2) risk-takers will also activate striatal regions in response to reward more strongly than non-risk takers; (3) we expect an interaction between risk-taking and anxiety-related factors, such as a potentiation of striatal activation in anxious risk-takers, and a blunting of striatal activation in non-anxious risk-takers. These effects will be uniquely altered by social stress. Finally, repeat studies will be conducted with the BI cohort to examine stability/developmental changes with time.

Clinical Study Identifier: NCT00060775

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National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, 9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD United States
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Adina Heckelman

University of Maryland, College Park
College Park, MD United States
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