The link between child abuse and psychopathology: A review of neurobiological and genetic research

University College London (UCL), London WC1H 0AP, UK.
Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (Impact Factor: 2.12). 04/2012; 105(4):151-6. DOI: 10.1258/jrsm.2011.110222
Source: PubMed


Childhood abuse is associated with later psychopathology, including conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, anxiety and depression as well as a heightened risk of health and social problems. However, the neurobiological mechanisms by which childhood adversity increases vulnerability to psychopathology remain poorly understood. There is likely to be a complex interaction between environmental experiences (such as abuse) and individual differences in risk versus protective genes, which influences the neurobiological circuitry underpinning psychological and emotional development. Neuroendocrine studies indicate an association between early adversity and atypical development of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis stress response, which may predispose to psychiatric vulnerability in adulthood. Brain imaging research in children and adults is providing evidence of several structural and functional brain differences associated with early adversity. Structural differences have been reported in the corpus callosum, cerebellum and prefrontal cortex. Functional differences have been reported in regions implicated in emotional and behavioural regulation, including the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex. These differences at the neurobiological level may represent adaptations to early experiences of heightened stress that lead to an increased risk of psychopathology. We also consider the clinical implications of future neurobiological and genetic research.

Download full-text


Available from: Stephane A De Brito, Apr 24, 2015
  • Source
    • "ELS-related alterations of function of these regions have been reported previously by others (e.g. (Brydges et al., 2013;Coplan et al., 2010;Hui et al., 2011;Lippmann et al., 2007;Lukas et al., 2011;McCrory et al., 2012;Suzuki et al., 2014;Vicentic et al., 2006)). The 'Sex x ELS' interaction was particularly prominent in the globus pallidus (Fig. 6, column 4, AP -1.2 mm). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Early life stress (ELS) is a risk factor for developing functional gastrointestinal disorders, and has been proposed to be related to a central amplification of sensory input and resultant visceral hyperalgesia. We sought to characterize ELS-related changes in functional brain responses during acute noxious visceral stimulation. Neonatal rats (males/females) were exposed to limited bedding (ELS) or standard bedding (controls) on postnatal days 2–9. Age 10–11 weeks, animals were implanted with venous cannulas and transmitters for abdominal electromyography (EMG). Cerebral blood flow (rCBF) was mapped during colorectal distension (CRD) using [14C]-iodoantipyrine autoradiography, and analyzed in three-dimensionally reconstructed brains by statistical parametric mapping and functional connectivity. EMG responses to CRD were increased after ELS, with no evidence of a sex difference. ELS rats compared to controls showed a greater significant positive correlation of EMG with amygdalar rCBF. Factorial analysis revealed a significant main effect of ‘ELS’ on functional activation of nodes within the pain pathway (somatosensory, insular, cingulate and prefrontal cortices, locus coeruleus/lateral parabrachial n. [LC/LPB], periaqueductal gray, sensory thalamus), as well as in the amygdala, hippocampus and hypothalamus. In addition, ELS resulted in an increase in the number of significant functional connections (i.e. degree centrality) between regions within the pain circuit, including the amygdala, LC/LPB, insula, anterior ventral cingulate, posterior cingulate (retrosplenium), and stria terminalis, with decreases noted in the sensory thalamus and the hippocampus. Sex differences in rCBF were less broadly expressed, with significant differences noted at the level of the cortex, amygdala, dorsal hippocampus, raphe, sensory thalamus, and caudate-putamen. ELS showed a sexually dimorphic effect (‘Sex x ELS’ interaction) at the LC/LPB complex, globus pallidus, hypothalamus, raphe, septum, caudate-putamen and cerebellum. Our results suggest that ELS alters functional activation of the thalamo-cortico-amydala pathway, as well as the emotional-arousal network (amygdala, locus coeruleus), with evidence that ELS may additionally show sexually dimorphic effects on brain function.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2016
    • "In the first study to document this effect,Caspi et al. (2002)found that among individuals who had experienced early adversity, carriers of a low activity MAOA-1 allele were at particular risk for antisocial behavior. Follow-up research has shown that this polymorphism is associated with an exaggerated neurocognitive response to threat and reduced activity in the brain regions involved in emotion regulation, suggesting a heightened vulnerability to aggressive or reactive behaviors (McCrory et al., 2012). Other notable studies have focused on Gene × Environment interactions of early adversity that predict later life depression based on polymorphisms of the serotonin transporter gene, which influences the availability of the serotonin neurotransmitter at neuronal synapses (Banny et al., 2013;Cutuli et al., 2013). "

    No preview · Chapter · Jan 2016
    • "Moreover, children adapt as readily to a negative environment as to a positive one (Howe, 2005; McCrory, De Brito & Viding, 2012), making it very difficult for those who have developed maladaptive attachment styles in response to a hostile environment to subsequently respond appropriately to nurturing environments, for instance, upon placement with adoptive carers (Egeland, 2009; Selwyn et al., 2014). Not only do abuse and neglect in infancy impact on children's ability to form attachments and trust others, they also affect their cognitive and behavioural development – for instance, neglected infants and toddlers show more evidence of poor social skills, difficulties in communication and language, and inadequate coping abilities (Hildyard & Wolfe, 2002). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The Safeguarding Children Research Initiative (Davies & Ward, 2012) was a programme of fifteen studies commissioned by the Department of Health and what is now the Department for Education, each of which explored a different aspect of safeguarding children. This paper brings together the findings of these studies to explore the types of strategies that have been shown to promote positive long-term outcomes for children and young people at risk of maltreatment. The authors highlight the potential harm caused to children when they are exposed to maltreatment and demonstrate the range of interventions that have been developed to improve their long-term outcomes. The paper provides examples of universal, targeted and intensive services with a strong evidence base for success. The most effective intensive interventions are found to be those that prevent the occurrence or re-occurrence of maltreatment, address the underlying factors associated with maltreatment and the various stages associated with the process of change. The authors also examine the supplementary issues practitioners need to be aware of when considering the choice of intervention, including some of the obstacles to providing support, such as the nature of the evidence base, the extent to which different agencies work together to provide services for vulnerable children and families, the availability of resources and the ways in which children and families move between different parts of the child welfare system. If practitioners are to make best use of the available interventions, it is important that they select those underpinned by robust evidence showing that positive outcomes have been achieved for families in similar circumstances.
    No preview · Article · Jun 2015
Show more