Associations between early adrenarche, affective brain function and mental health in children

Sarah Whittle, Julian G. Simmons, Michelle L. Byrne, Cherie Strikwerda-Brown, Rebecca Kerestes, Marc L. Seal, Craig A. Olsson, Paul Dudgeon, Lisa K. Mundy, George C. Patton, Nicholas B. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


Early timing of adrenarche, associated with relatively high levels of Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in children, has been associated with mental health and behavioral problems. However, little is known about effects of adreneracheal timing on brain function. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of early adrenarche (defined by high DHEA levels independent of age) on affective brain function and symptoms of psychopathology in late childhood (N = 83, 43 females, M age 9.53 years, s.d. 0.34 years). Results showed that higher DHEA levels were associated with decreased affect-related brain activity (i) in the mid-cingulate cortex in the whole sample, and (ii) in a number of cortical and subcortical regions in female but not male children. Higher DHEA levels were also associated with increased externalizing symptoms in females, an association that was partly mediated by posterior insula activation to happy facial expressions. These results suggest that timing of adrenarche is an important moderator of affect-related brain function, and that this may be one mechanism linking early adrenarche to psychopathology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1282-1290
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Adrenarche
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone
  • Emotion
  • Externalizing symptoms
  • Puberty
  • Sex differences

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