Friday, February 10, 2017

Imaging Study Points to Pathway Linking Child Abuse With Mental Illness

Childhood maltreatment is known to be associated with changes in brain structure and with psychopathology, but more needs to be learned about the biological connection between the two.

A longitudinal study of 51 adolescents with a history of abuse now suggests that changes in cortical thickness are associated with increased risk of internalizing and externalizing symptoms. The findings by Daniel Busso, Ed.D., of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and colleagues were published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Busso and colleagues first assessed the adolescents for abuse exposure, then conducted structural magnetic resonance imaging scans and diagnostic interviews with the youth 14 months later. About two years later, the participants completed additional mental health assessments.

The researchers found that child abuse was associated with reduced cortical thickness in several regions of the lateral and medial prefrontal cortex and temporal cortex. The thickness of the left and right parahippocampal gyrus predicted antisocial behavior symptoms, and the thickness of the middle temporal gyrus predicted general anxiety symptoms. The authors found no association between abuse and volume of the amygdala or hippocampus.

“Our findings reflect the impact of abuse on cortico-limbic areas implicated previously in behavioral and emotional control functions,” Busso and colleagues concluded. “The medial temporal lobe and interconnected limbic structures are involved in the pathophysiology of both internalizing and externalizing psychopathology, including ODD/CD [oppositional defiant disorder/conduct disorder], ASB [antisocial behavior], and depression, potentially because they reflect underlying deficits in emotion processing or regulation that are relevant to these disorders.”

For more information about adolescent brain development, see the Psychiatric News article “NIH Kicks Off National Adolescent Brain Development Study.”

(Image: iStock/Semnic)


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