childhood trauma

Childhood adversity linked to early puberty, premature brain development and mental illness

Penn study details effects of poverty and trauma on youth brain and behavior

May 31, 2019

Science Daily/University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Growing up in poverty and experiencing traumatic events like a bad accident or sexual assault can impact brain development and behavior in children and young adults. Low socioeconomic status (L-SES) and the experience of traumatic stressful events (TSEs) were linked to accelerated puberty and brain maturation, abnormal brain development, and greater mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis, according to a new study published this week in JAMA Psychiatry. The research was conducted by a team from Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) through the Lifespan Brain Institute (LiBI).

 

"The findings underscore the need to pay attention to the environment in which the child grows. Poverty and trauma have strong associations with behavior and brain development, and the effects are much more pervasive than previously believed," said the study's lead author Raquel E. Gur, MD, PhD, a professor of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Radiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and director of the Lifespan Brain Institute.

 

Parents and educators are split into opposing camps with regard to the question of how childhood adversity affects development into mature, healthy adulthood. Views differ from "spare the rod and spoil the child" to concerns that any stressful condition such as bullying will have a harmful and lasting effects. Psychologists and social scientists have documented lasting effects of growing up in poverty on cognitive functioning, and clinicians observed effects of childhood trauma on several disorders, though mostly in the context of post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). There are also anecdotal observations, supported by some research, that adversity accelerates maturation -- children become young adults faster, physically and mentally. Neuroscientists, who are aware of the complexity of changes that the brain must undergo as it transitions from childhood to young adulthood, suspected, and more recently documented that childhood adversity affects important measures of brain structure and function. But this study was the first to compare the effects of poverty (L-SES) to those who experienced TSEs in the same sample set.

 

The researchers analyzed data from the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort, which included 9,498 participants aged 8 to 21 years for the study. The racially and economically diverse cohort includes data on SES, TSEs, neurocognitive performance, and in a subsample, multimodal neuroimaging taken via MRI.

 

The researchers found specific associations of SES and TSE with psychiatric symptoms, cognitive performance, and several brain structure abnormalities.

 

The findings revealed that poverty was associated with small elevation in severity of psychiatric symptoms, including mood/anxiety, phobias, externalizing behavior (oppositional-defiant, conduct disorder, ADHD), and psychosis, as compared to individuals who did not experience poverty. The magnitude of the effects of TSEs on psychiatric symptom severity was unexpectedly large. TSEs were mostly associated with PTSD, but here the authors found that even a single TSE was associated with a moderate increase in severity for all psychiatric symptoms analyzed, and two or more TSEs showed large effect sizes, especially in mood/anxiety and in psychosis. Additionally, these effects were larger in females than in males.

 

With neurocognitive functioning, the case was reversed; poverty was found to be associated with moderate to large cognitive deficits, especially in executive functioning -- abstraction and mental flexibility, attention, working memory -- and in complex reasoning. TSEs were found to have very subtle effects, with individuals who experienced two or more TSEs showing a mild deficit in complex cognition, but demonstrating slightly better memory performance.

 

Both poverty and TSEs were associated with abnormalities across measures of brain anatomy, physiology, and connectivity. Poverty associations were widespread, whereas TSEs were associated with more focused differences in the limbic and fronto-parietal regions of the brain, which processes emotions, memory, executive functions and complex reasoning.

 

The researchers also found evidence that adversity is associated with earlier onset of puberty. Both poverty and experiencing TSEs are associated with the child physically maturing at an earlier age. The researchers also found the same effects on the brain, with findings revealing that a higher proportion of children who experienced adversity had characteristics of adult brains. This affects development, as the careful layering of the structural and functional connectivity in the brain requires time, and early maturity could prevent the necessary honing of skills.

 

"Altogether our study shows no evidence to support the 'spare the rod' approach, to the contrary we have seen unexpectedly strong effects of TSEs on psychiatric symptoms and of poverty on neurocognitive functioning, and both are associated with brain abnormalities," Gur said. "The study suggests that it makes sense for parents and anyone involved in raising a child to try and shield or protect the child from exposure to adversity. And for those dealing with children who were already exposed to adversity -- as is sadly the case today with refugees around the world -- expect an increase in symptoms and consider cognitive remediation, a type of rehabilitation treatment which aims to improve attention, memory, and other cognitive functions."

 

"Traumas that happen to young children can have lifelong consequences," said the study's senior author Ruben C. Gur, PhD, a professor of Psychiatry, Radiology, and Neurology, and director of the Brain Behavior Laboratory. "Obviously it would be best if we could ameliorate poverty and prevent traumatic events from occurring. Short of that, the study calls for paying more attention to a child's socioeconomic background and to effects of trauma exposure. Parents and educators should become more aware of the special needs of children who are exposed to either adversity. Additionally, mental health professionals should be particularly on notice that traumatic events are associated not only with PTSD, but with elevations across domains including mood, anxiety, and psychosis."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190531085404.htm

Childhood trauma has lasting effect on brain connectivity in patients with depression

April 8, 2019

Science Daily/University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

A study lead by Penn Medicine researchers found that childhood trauma is linked to abnormal connectivity in the brain in adults with major depressive disorder (MDD). The paper, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is the first data-driven study to show symptom-specific, system-level changes in brain network connectivity in MDD.

 

"With estimates of approximately 10 percent of all children in the United States having been subjected to child abuse, the significance of child maltreatment on brain development and function is an important consideration," said Yvette I. Sheline, MD, McLure professor of Psychiatry, Radiology, and Neurology, and director of the Center for Neuromodulation in Depression and Stress (CNDS) in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "This study not only confirms the important relationship between childhood trauma and major depression, but also links patients' experiences of childhood trauma with specific functional brain network abnormalities. This suggests a possible environmental contributor to neurobiological symptoms."

 

MDD is a common mental disorder characterized by a variety of symptoms -- including persistently depressed mood, loss of interest, low energy, insomnia or hypersomnia, and more. These symptoms impair daily life and increase the risk of suicide. In addition, experiences of childhood trauma, including physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, as well as physical or emotional neglect, have been associated with the emergence and persistence of depressive and anxiety disorders. However, the neurobiological mechanisms underlying MDD are still largely unknown.

 

To address this challenge, a team led by Sheline utilized functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the brain networks and patterns that underlie the disorder. Researchers compared brain activity in 189 participants with MDD to activity of 39 healthy controls. First author Meichen Yu, a post-doctoral fellow in the CNDS, conducted statistical analyses to determine the associations between temporal correlations in connectivity within and between 10 well-established, large-scale resting state networks (RSNs) and clinical measures, including both past history of trauma and current clinical symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, suicidality. These symptoms were measured by 213 item-level survey questions.

 

The authors found that in patients with MDD, while the strongest correlations were with childhood trauma, abnormal network connectivity was also associated with current symptoms of depression. Even though participants in this study were not selected as participants based on a history of trauma, and the brain imaging took place decades after trauma occurred, prior trauma was evident in abnormal functional connectivity.

 

"These results suggest that resting-state network connectivity may point to some of the brain mechanisms underlying the symptoms of major depressive disorder," Sheline explains. "It may have the potential to serve as an effective biomarker, aiding in the development of depression biotypes and opening up the possibility of targeted diagnosis."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190408161610.htm

Early Childhood Trauma Takes Visible Toll On Brain

October 16, 2012

Science Daily/Society for Neuroscience

Trauma in infancy and childhood shapes the brain, learning, and behavior, and fuels changes that can last a lifetime, according to new human and animal research released today. The studies delve into the effects of early physical abuse, socioeconomic status (SES), and maternal treatment. Documenting the impact of early trauma on brain circuitry and volume, the activation of genes, and working memory, researchers suggest it increases the risk of mental disorders, as well as heart disease and stress-related conditions in adulthood.

 

Findings show:

·      Physical abuse in early childhood may realign communication between key "body-control" brain areas, possibly predisposing adults to cardiovascular disease and mental health problems (Layla Banihashemi, PhD, abstract 691.12).

 

·      Rodent studies provide insight into brain changes that allow tolerance of pain within mother-pup attachment (Regina Sullivan, PhD, abstract 399.19).

 

·      Childhood poverty is associated with changes in working memory and attention years later in adults; yet training in childhood is associated with improved cognitive functions (Eric Pakulak, PhD, abstract 908.04).

 

·      Chronic stress experienced by infant primates leads to fearful and aggressive behaviors; these are associated with changes in stress hormone production and in the development of the amygdala (Mar Sanchez, PhD, abstract 691.10).

 

Another recent finding discussed shows that:

·      Parent education and income is associated with children's brain size, including structures important for memory and emotion (Suzanne Houston, MA).

 

"While we are becoming fully aware, in general, of the devastating impact that early life adversity has on the developing brain, today's findings reveal specific changes in targeted brain regions and the long-lasting nature of these alterations," said press conference moderator Bruce McEwen, PhD, from The Rockefeller University, an expert on stress and its effects on early brain development.

 

"In doing so, this research points not only to new directions for the improved detection and treatment of resulting cognitive impairment, mental health disorders, and chronic diseases, but also emphasizes the importance of preventing early life abuse and neglect in the first place."

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121016132113.htm

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