Associations Between Traumatic Stress, Brain Volumes and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms in Children: Data from the ABCD Study

Daniel Bustamante, Ananda B. Amstadter, Joshua N. Pritikin, Timothy R. Brick, Michael C. Neale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Reduced volumes in brain regions of interest (ROIs), primarily from adult samples, are associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We extended this work to children using data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study® (N = 11,848; Mage = 9.92). Structural equation modeling and an elastic-net (EN) machine-learning approach were used to identify potential effects of traumatic events (TEs) on PTSD symptoms (PTSDsx) directly, and indirectly via the volumes 300 subcortical and cortical ROIs. We then estimated the genetic and environmental variation in the phenotypes. TEs were directly associated with PTSDsx (r = 0.92) in children, but their indirect effects (r < 0.0004)—via the volumes of EN-identified subcortical and cortical ROIs—were negligible at this age. Additive genetic factors explained a modest proportion of the variance in TEs (23.4%) and PTSDsx (21.3%), and accounted for most of the variance of EN-identified volumes of four of the five subcortical (52.4–61.8%) three of the nine cortical ROIs (46.4–53.3%) and cerebral white matter in the left hemisphere (57.4%). Environmental factors explained most of the variance in TEs (C = 61.6%, E = 15.1%), PTSDsx (residual-C = 18.4%, residual-E = 21.8%), right lateral ventricle (C = 15.2%, E = 43.1%) and six of the nine EN-identified cortical ROIs (C = 4.0–13.6%, E = 56.7–74.8%). There is negligible evidence that the volumes of brain ROIs are associated with the indirect effects of TEs on PTSDsx at this age. Overall, environmental factors accounted for more of the variation in TEs and PTSDsx. Whereas additive genetic factors accounted for most of the variability in the volumes of a minority of cortical and in most of subcortical ROIs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-91
Number of pages17
JournalBehavior Genetics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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