HDR Confirmation Seminar: Amanda Boyes - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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HDR Confirmation Seminar: Amanda Boyes

We would like to invite you to attend the Confirmation Presentation of Amanda Boyes, Doctor of Philosophy candidate at Thompson Institute.

Thesis Title:

Neurobiological markers for resilience in early adolescence: Developing phenotypes using measures of wellbeing, psychological distress, and subcortical grey matter structure


Adolescent mental health is a global concern, as three-quarters of all lifetime mental disorders develop by age 24 and around half of the total burden of disease among young people aged between 10 and 24 years old is attributable to mental illness (McGorry, 2007; Mission Australia and Black Dog Institute, 2016). In order to identify neurobiological correlates of mental illness, research over the past few decades has considered genes, cells, neural circuits, and neurobiological abnormalities in humans and animals (Berretta et al., 2015; Drevets, 2000; Goodkind et al., 2015; McCammon and Sive, 2015). However, research on brain structure and mood disorders has focussed primarily on adults with little research in adolescents (Casey et al., 2008; Foulkes and Blakemore, 2018). Furthermore, to date, many imaging studies have focussed on specific diagnoses, ignoring commonalities, with limited information on the broader biological differences between 'healthy' and 'mentally ill' brains that may aid treatment and prevention, prior to the onset of mental disorders (Goodkind et al., 2015). In addressing this gap, some researchers have studied groups of young people to identify early markers for mental illness, focussing on changes in brain structure along with other risk factors and depressive symptoms, and proposing staging models for mood disorders, suggesting crucial opportunities for intervention (Lagopoulos et al., 2012; Schmaal et al., 2017).

When looking at mental health and brain structure, determining factors that are linked to positive mental health, rather than mental illness is a new area of exploration (Thomson et al., 2017). Previous research has focussed on the risks of mental ill-health with the view that addressing these risks will create wellbeing, however, it has been suggested that the genetic, environmental and biological markers that define mental health are very different to those that define mental illness, indicating a need to consider biological profiles incorporating measures of wellbeing (Gatt, Burton, Schofield, Bryant, & Williams, 2014).

This study will consider the links between psychological distress (as a proxy measure of mental health disorder), wellbeing and subcortical brain structure in early adolescence, with the hope of identifying information that may assist with early interventions. Data will be drawn from the Longitudinal Adolescent Brain Study (LABS) at the Thompson institute (TI), which has more than 2.5 years of data available. Data is collected every 4 months (i.e. 3 timepoints per year).

The first paper from this study has been submitted to Brain Research (Revisions Requested). Significant negative associations were found between left hemisphere caudate grey matter volume and self-reported scores on measures of 'total wellbeing', 'composure' and 'positivity' at baseline (timepoint 1). This is a novel result and indicates that smaller caudate GMV at age 12 is linked to increased subjective wellbeing. This suggests that protective neurobiological factors may be identifiable early in adolescence and be linked to specific types of wellbeing (such as positive affect and optimism), which may have implications for interventions targeted at building resilience against mental ill health in young people. Future papers will build on these findings, as well as other published LABS baseline data regarding psychological distress and brain structure (Broadhouse et al., 2019), in order to look at cross-sectional and longitudinal changes in brain structure, wellbeing and psychological distress in our sample of adolescents on the Sunshine Coast.


Beaudequin, D., Schwenn, P., McLoughlin, L.T., Parker, M.J., Broadhouse, K., Simcock, G., Boyes, A., Kannis-Dymand, L., Wood, A., Lagopoulos, J., Hermens, D.F., 2020. Using measures of intrinsic homeostasis and extrinsic modulation to evaluate mental health in adolescents: Preliminary results from the longitudinal adolescent brain study (LABS). Psychiatry Res. 285, 112848. 10.1016/j.psychres.2020.112848

Berretta, S., Heckers, S., Benes, F.M., 2015. Searching human brain for mechanisms of psychiatric disorders. Schizophr. Res. 167, 91-97. 10.1016/j.schres.2014.10.019

Broadhouse, K., Boyes, A., Winks, N., Dokonal, T., McLoughlin, L., Parker, M., Beaudequin, D., Simcock, G., Lagopoulos, J., Hermens, D., 2019. Subcortical Volume Correlates of Psychological Distress in Early Adolescence. Dev. Neurosci. 41, 1-10. 10.1159/000502339

Casey, B.J., Getz, S., Galvan, A., 2008. The adolescent brain. Dev. Rev. 28, 62-77. 10.1016/j.dr.2007.08.003

Drevets, W.C., 2000. Neuroimaging studies of mood disorders. Biol. Psychiatry. 48, 813-829. 10.1016/S0006-3223(00)01020-9

Foulkes, L., Blakemore, S.-J., 2018. Studying individual differences in human adolescent brain development. Nat. Neurosci. 21, 315-323. 10.1038/s41593-018-0078-4

Goodkind, M., Eickhoff, S.B., Oathes, D.J., Jiang, Y., Chang, A., Jones-Hagata, L.B., Ortega, B.N., Zaiko, Y.V., Roach, E.L., Korgaonkar, M.S., Grieve, S.M., Galatzer-Levy, I., Fox, P.T., Etkin, A., 2015. Identification of a common neurobiological substrate for mental illness. JAMA Psychiatry. 72, 305-315. 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.2206

Lagopoulos, J., Hermens, D.F., Naismith, S.L., Scott, E.M., Hickie, I.B., 2012. Frontal lobe changes occur early in the course of affective disorders in young people. BMC Psychiatry. 12. 10.1186/1471-244X-12-4

McCammon, J.M., Sive, H., 2015. Challenges in understanding psychiatric disorders and developing therapeutics: A role for zebrafish. Dis. Model. Mech. 8, 647-656. 10.1242/dmm.019620

McGorry, P.D., 2007. The specialist youth mental health model: Strengthening the weakest link in the public health system. The Medical Journal of Australia. 187, S53-S56. 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2007.tb01338.x

Mission Australia, Black Dog Institute, 2016. Youth mental health report: Youth survey 2012-16.

Schmaal, L., Yucel, M., Ellis, R., Vijayakumar, N., Simmons, J.G., Allen, N.B., Whittle, S., 2017. Brain structural signatures of adolescent depressive symptom trajectories: A longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging study. J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry. 56, 593-601. 10.1016/j.jaac.2017.05.008

Thomson, K.C., Guhn, M., Richardson, C.G., Shoveller, J.A., 2017. Associations between household educational attainment and adolescent positive mental health in Canada. SSM - Population Health. 3, 403-410. 10.1016/j.ssmph.2017.04.005