Subclinical Anxiety and Posttraumatic Stress Influence Cortical Thinning During Adolescence

Brittany K. Taylor, Jacob A. Eastman, Michaela R. Frenzel, Christine M. Embury, Yu Ping Wang, Julia M. Stephen, Vince D. Calhoun, Amy S. Badura-Brack, Tony W. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Objective: Adolescence is a sensitive period for the development and emergence of anxiety and mood disorders. Research suggests that symptoms ranging from subclinical to clinical levels are associated with pathological developmental changes in the neocortex. However, much of this research has been cross-sectional, limiting the field's ability to identify the neurodevelopmental impacts of these symptoms. The present study examined how early reported symptoms predict baseline cortical thickness and surface area, and trajectories of change in these measures during adolescence. Method: A total of 205 typically developing individuals 9 to 15 years of age (103 male and 102 female participants) completed 3T structural magnetic resonance imaging annually for 3 years. From these, we extracted mean cortical thickness and total surface area for each year. Youth self-reported their anxiety, depressive, and posttraumatic stress symptoms during their first visit. We used latent growth curve modeling to determine how these symptoms along with sex interactions predicted baseline thickness and surface area, and rates of change in these measures over the 3-year period. Results: Higher anxiety was associated with lower baseline thickness and slowed cortical thinning over time. Conversely, greater posttraumatic stress predicted higher baseline thickness and accelerated thinning over time. Sex interactions suggested that the effects were dampened among female compared to male participants. Depressive symptoms were not related to cortical thickness or surface area. Conclusion: Female adolescents may express more regionally specific effects of symptoms sets on cortical thickness, although this requires further investigation. Cortical thickness in male adolescents appears to be preferentially susceptible to anxiety and posttraumatic stress symptoms, exhibiting global changes across multiple years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1288-1299
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • MRI
  • adolescent development
  • longitudinal
  • structural equation modeling
  • subclinical symptoms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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