Neuroimaging markers of adolescent depression in the National Consortium on Alcohol and Neurodevelopment in Adolescence (NCANDA) study

Alejandro D. Meruelo, Ty Brumback, Bonnie J. Nagel, Fiona C. Baker, Sandra A. Brown, Susan F. Tapert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Adolescents are at increased risk of developing major depressive disorder (MDD) than many other age groups. Although the neural correlates of MDD in adults have been studied prospectively, such adolescent depression studies are mainly cross-sectional. We extracted data regarding the relationship between cortical thickness and later development of adolescent MDD from a national community study that uses an accelerated longitudinal design to examine the psychological, environmental, and neural differences related to drinking and brain development. Methods: 692 subjects (age 12–21 years; 50% female) without a history of MDD were assessed with structural neuroimaging at baseline. We compared those 101 subjects who transitioned to MDD by 1-year follow-up to those who remained non-depressed over the same time period. FreeSurfer's autosegmentation process estimated vertex-wide cortical thicknesses and its Query, Design, Estimate, Contrast (Qdec) application investigated cortical thickness between those who later developed MDD and those who remained without MDD (Monte Carlo corrected for multiple comparisons, vertex-wise cluster threshold of 1.3, p < 0.01). Results: Those who transitioned in the next year to MDD had, at baseline, thinner cortices in the superior frontal cortex, precentral and postcentral regions, and superior temporal cortex, above and beyond effects attributable to age and sex. No cortical thickness sex differences or sex-by-depression interactions were observed. Limitations: A larger sample size could improve statistical power and future investigations will be needed to confirm our results. Conclusions: Thinner cortices over frontal and temporal regions may be linked to enhanced vulnerability for future depression during the adolescent–young adulthood transition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)380-386
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - May 15 2021


  • Adolescence
  • Biomarker
  • Cortical thickness
  • Depression
  • Longitudinal
  • Neuroimaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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