Data and methods Accepted project proposals Mapping behavioral and neurobiological patterns of adversity in psychiatry

Author: Linda Schlüter, André Marquand
Affiliation(s): Radboud University Medical Center

Keywords: Childhood Adversity, Mental Health, Structural MRI, Normative Modeling

Research question(s):

1. Can we replicate the recently identified pattern of adversity-related structural brain alterations by Holz et al. (2023) in psychiatric patients using normative modeling?

2. Can we identify general and adversity-type-specific structural alterations?

3. Are individual deviations from the normative model linked to psychiatric symptomatology?






Childhood adversity (CA) has lasting impact on physical, emotional and cognitive development. CA is highly prevalent among individuals with psychiatric disorders and its contribution to the risk of developing mental health problems is well established. Moreover, there is evidence linking CA to structural and functional brain alterations. Yet, prior efforts to identify the neural underpinnings of CA and their implications for psychiatry have been limited by a reliance on case-control comparisons, in which a well-defined patient group is compared to an unaffected control group in terms of group averages. Given the heterogeneity and comorbidity present in psychiatric populations, these comparisons cannot adequately account for individual variation in CA experiences, brain, and behavior.

The normative modeling framework (Rutherford et al 2023) represents a promising alternative to address this problem. By mapping neurobiological differences relative to a reference model, this approach allows for the investigation of CA-related brain alterations at the level of the individual. A recent study by Holz et al. (2023) employing this framework identified a distinct pattern of adversity-related structural brain alterations in individuals at risk for mental health problems. Furthermore, the extent of individual structural alterations predicted future anxiety symptoms. This suggests that CA-related brain changes represent a promising predictor for clinical outcomes. However, it remains to be tested whether these findings can be extended to clinical patient populations and how such variation is expressed across the spectrum of functioning, from health to disorder. We aim to replicate the previously identified pattern of adversity-related structural brain alterations by Holz et al. (2023) in a multimorbid psychiatric patient sample (MIND-Set cohort) and to test the link between structural deviations and psychopathology. We will use the HBS data in order to accurately map variation across the spectrum of functioning to refine our inferences in the MIND-Set cohort.