An article released this week in the December issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals, outlines evidence for poor upbringing in children leading to reduced brain volume. Specifically, researchers have found that cerebral gray matter changes due to bad treatment, and "early life stress" seems to inhibit the development of the brain.
Erin E. Edmiston, B.A., then of Yale University, New Haven, Conn., now with Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., and colleagues compiled information on 42 adolescents (age range 12 to 17 years) without a psychiatric diagnosis to examine the association between exposure to childhood maltreatment and cerebral gray matter volume abnormalities. Their findings indicate that even in cases where adolescents do not exhibit full psychiatric disorders, there may be physical deficiencies in their cerebral gray matter that can be detected on an MRI scan.
The authors write :
"An estimated 3.7 million children are assessed for childhood maltreatment (CM) each year in the United States; because many cases do not come to professional attention, this likely is an underestimate of the number of children experiencing maltreatment ...
Converging data support adverse effects of early life stress on morphologic development of corticostriatal-limbic structures. Magnetic resonance imaging studies show decreased corticostriatal-limbic gray matter volume in children and adults reporting exposure to CM."
The study subjects were selected from group of children identified at birth to be at high risk for CM, and additional participants were also recruited to allow for a sample of adolescents reporting a spectrum of CM severity.
Data was collected through a self-report questionnaire, and included questions related to five subtypes of CM:
- Physical Abuse
- Physical Neglect
- Emotional Abuse
- Emotional Neglect
- Sexual Abuse
"Although preliminary, results of exploratory analyses support prominent reductions in prefrontal cortex volume common across physical abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect CM subtypes, as well as patterns of additional regional gray matter volume decreases in the CM subtypes ...The scores that participants had on their Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) were associated with a negative correlation with cerebral gray matter volume in the prefrontal cortex, striatum, amygdala, sensory association cortices and cerebellum.
Findings in girls were in regions associated with emotion regulation, whereas findings in boys were in regions sub serving impulse control."
The researchers also found that self-reported physical abuse, physical neglect and emotional neglect subtypes of CM were all associated with reductions in gray matter volume of the rostral prefrontal cortex.
No significant results were found for emotional abuse or for sexual abuse.
The authors conclude :
"Together, these results highlight the critical need for improved understanding of effects of childhood abuse and neglect in adolescents and of possible differences in the effects of different CM subtypes on brain development ...
Although adolescents with a history of CM 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."
Written by Rupert Shepherd