Childhood abuse linked to brain damage in adolescence

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Childhood Maltreatment Linked to Reduced Gray Matter Volume
Childhood Maltreatment Linked to Reduced Gray Matter Volume

HealthDay News -- Teens who experienced childhood maltreatment (CM) had reduced cerebral gray matter (GM) morphology, results from a study published in the December issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine indicate.

 "Although adolescents with a history of childhood maltreatment may have symptoms and behaviors that may not yet meet criteria for psychiatric diagnoses, detection and early intervention may help improve functioning and reduce risk for the development of mood, addictive, and other psychiatric disorders," Hilary P. Blumberg, MD, of Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., and colleagues wrote.

They examined the correlation between self-reported exposure to CM and regional GM morphology in 42 adolescents without psychiatric diagnoses. They measured exposure to CM using a childhood trauma self-report questionnaire for physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and for physical and emotional neglect. Voxel-based analyses of structural magnetic resonance images were used to assess the correlation between subtypes of CM exposure and regional GM volume.

The researchers found a significant negative correlation between total questionnaire scores and GM volume in the prefrontal cortex, striatum, amygdala, sensory association cortices and cerebellum. Associations were positive for physical abuse, physical neglect and emotional neglect, with rostral prefrontal reductions.

Physical abuse correlated with reductions in the dorsolateral and orbitofrontal cortices, insula and ventral striatum. Physical neglect was associated with reductions in the cerebellum. Emotional neglect correlated with reductions in the dorsolateral, orbitofrontal and subgenual prefrontal cortices, striatum, amygdala, hippocampus and cerebellum.

GM atrophy varied by gender, with girls who experienced CM more likely to experience decreases in areas of the brain associated with emotion regulation regions, whereas boys had deficits in areas of the brain associated with impulse control.

In an accompanying editorial, Philip A. Fisher, PhD, and Jennifer H. Pfeifer, PhD, acknowledged the importance of the findings and suggested further studies to examine functional, as well as anatomical connectivity within the brain.

"One particularly relevant new mind-set would consider the regional developmental trajectories of gray matter and white matter in a movement toward thinking about these effects at the level of networks rather than isolated regions," Fisher and Pfeifer wrote.

Edmiston EE et al. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011;165:1069-1077.

Fischer PA, Pfeifer JH. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011;165: 1133-1134.


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