Uncovering the neuroanatomical correlates of cognitive, affective and conative theory of mind in paediatric traumatic brain injury: A neural systems perspective

Nicholas P. Ryan, Cathy Catroppa, Richard Beare, Timothy J. Silk, Stephen J. Hearps, Miriam H. Beauchamp, Keith O. Yeates, Vicki A. Anderson

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33 Citations (Scopus)


Deficits in theory of mind (ToM) are common after neurological insult acquired in the first and second decade of life, however the contribution of large-scale neural networks to ToM deficits in children with brain injury is unclear. Using paediatric traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a model, this study investigated the sub-acute effect of paediatric traumatic brain injury on grey-matter volume of three large-scale, domain-general brain networks (the Default Mode Network, DMN; the Central Executive Network, CEN; and the Salience Network, SN), as well as two domain-specific neural networks implicated in social-affective processes (the Cerebro-Cerebellar Mentalizing Network, CCMN and the Mirror Neuron/Empathy Network, MNEN). We also evaluated prospective structure-function relationships between these large-scale neural networks and cognitive, affective and conative ToM. 3D T1- weighted magnetic resonance imaging sequences were acquired sub-acutely in 137 children [TBI: n=103; typically developing (TD) children: n=34]. All children were assessed on measures of ToM at 24- months post-injury. Children with severe TBI showed sub-acute volumetric reductions in the CCMN, SN, MNEN, CEN and DMN, as well as reduced grey-matter volumes of several hub regions of these neural networks. Volumetric reductions in the CCMN and several of its hub regions, including the cerebellum, predicted poorer cognitive ToM. In contrast, poorer affective and conative ToM were predicted by volumetric reductions in the SN and MNEN, respectively. Overall, results suggest that cognitive, affective and conative ToM may be prospectively predicted by individual differences in structure of different neural systems-the CCMN, SN and MNEN, respectively. The prospective relationship between cerebellar volume and cognitive ToM outcomes is a novel finding in our paediatric brain injury sample and suggests that the cerebellum may play a role in the neural networks important for ToM. These findings are discussed in relation to neurocognitive models of ToM. We conclude that detection of sub-acute volumetric abnormalities of large-scale neural networks and their hub regions may aid in the early identification of children at risk for chronic social-cognitive impairment.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbernsx066
Pages (from-to)1414-1427
Number of pages14
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain injuries
  • Childhood
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Social cognition
  • Theory of Mind

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