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The myeloarchitecture of impulsivity: premature responding in youth is associated with decreased myelination of ventral putamen

Neuropsychopharmacology (2019) | Download Citation


Impulsivity has been suggested as a neurocognitive endophenotype conferring risk across a number of neuropsychiatric conditions, including substance and behavioural addictions, eating disorders, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. We used a paradigm with interspecies translation validity (the four-choice serial reaction time task, 4CSRTT) to assess ‘waiting’ impulsivity in a youth sample (N = 99, aged 16–26 years). We collected magnetization prepared two rapid acquisition gradient echo (MP2RAGE) scans, which enabled us to measure R1, the longitudinal relaxation rate, a parameter closely related to tissue myelin content, as well as quantify grey matter volume. We also assessed inhibitory control (commission errors) on a Go/NoGo task and measured decisional impulsivity (delay discounting) using the Monetary Choice Questionnaire (MCQ). We found R1 of the bilateral ventral putamen was negatively correlated with premature responding, the index of waiting impulsivity on the 4CSRTT. Heightened impulsivity in youth was significantly and specifically associated with lower levels of myelination in the ventral putamen. Impulsivity was not associated with grey matter volume. The association with myelination was specific to waiting impulsivity: R1 was not associated with decisional impulsivity on the MCQ or inhibitory control on the Go/NoGo task. We report that heightened waiting impulsivity, measured as premature responding on the 4CSRTT, is specifically associated with lower levels of ventral putaminal myelination, measured using R1. This may represent a neural signature of vulnerability to diseases associated with excessive impulsivity and demonstrates the added explanatory power of quantifying the mesoscopic organization of the human brain, over and above macroscopic volumetric measurements.

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Funding and Disclosures

This work was supported by Aarhus University Research Foundation, Assistant Professor Starting Grant–R46-A4016 (KRT, MBC, VV, MUP), Danish Ministry for Social Affairs and the Interior–9173-0003 (KRT, MBC, MUP), and a Medical Research Council Senior Clinical Fellowship (Grant Number MR/P008747/1 to VV). This work was also supported by NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre. The authors declare no competing interests.

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Author notes

  1. These authors contributed equally: Camilla L. Nord, Seung-Goo Kim, Kristine Rømer Thomsen and Valerie Voon.


  1. Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

    • Camilla L. Nord
    • , Seung-Goo Kim
    • , Timo L. Kvamme
    •  & Valerie Voon
  2. MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

    • Camilla L. Nord
  3. Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

    • Seung-Goo Kim
  4. Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research, School of Business and Social Sciences, University of Aarhus, Aarhus, Denmark

    • Mette Buhl Callesen
    • , Timo L. Kvamme
    • , Mads Uffe Pedersen
    •  & Kristine Rømer Thomsen
  5. Center of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience, MINDLab, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark

    • Timo L. Kvamme
    •  & Mads Jensen
  6. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge, UK

    • Valerie Voon


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Correspondence to Camilla L. Nord.

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