Amygdala, hippocampal and corpus callosum size following severe early institutional deprivation: The English and Romanian Adoptees Study Pilot

Centre for Neuroimaging Sciences, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK.
Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 6.46). 05/2009; 50(8):943-51. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2009.02084.x
Source: PubMed


The adoption into the UK of children who have been reared in severely deprived conditions provides an opportunity to study possible association between very early negative experiences and subsequent brain development. This cross-sectional study was a pilot for a planned larger study quantifying the effects of early deprivation on later brain structure. We used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the sizes of three key brain regions hypothesized to be sensitive to early adverse experiences. Our sample was a group of adoptee adolescents (N = 14) who had experienced severe early institutional deprivation in Romania and a group of non-institutionalised controls (N = 11). The total grey and white matter volumes were significantly smaller in the institutionalised group compared with a group of non-deprived, non-adopted UK controls. After correcting for difference in brain volume, the institutionalised group had greater amygdala volumes, especially on the right, but no differences were observed in hippocampal volume or corpus callosum mid-sagittal area. The left amygdala volume was also related to the time spent in institutions, with those experiencing longer periods of deprivation having a smaller left amygdala volume. These pilot findings highlight the need for future studies to confirm the sensitivity of the amygdala to early deprivation.

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    • "In concert, human research reveals that children of depressed mothers, examined at 10 years of age, have larger amygdala volumes (Lupien et al., 2011). Furthermore, prolonged institutional rearing of orphaned children is associated with larger amygdala volumes, measured years after institutionalization (Mehta et al., 2009; Tottenham et al., 2010). Hanson and colleagues (2015), however, found an inverse association SIGNIFICANCE: "
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    • "Similar to previous reports (Bennett et al., 1974), the EC rats presented higher brain weights compared to the IC rats later in life. It has been reported that children reared in severely deprived conditions (Romanian adoptees) had 16% less total brain volume (Mehta et al., 2009). The adult neuronal circuits retain the capability of structural changes that appear to play a key role in adapting to environmental change as well as physiological states (Anderson, 2011). "
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    • "Increased dendritic branching and greater spine density of amygdala neurons have been reported in rodents after chronic restraint stress (Vyas et al., 2002; Mitra et al., 2009; Roozendaal et al., 2009), as well as increased myelination after maternal separation (Ono et al., 2008), which was accompanied by higher levels of anxious behavior. Similarly, several human studies have shown that early life adversity, such as prolonged orphanage rearing or poor care due to maternal depression, is related to larger amygdala volumes in adolescence compared to their peers, as well as an increased risk to develop affective psychopathology (Mehta et al., 2009; Tottenham et al., 2010; Lupien et al., 2011), although smaller medial temporal lobe volumes were found as well (Hanson et al., 2015). In adulthood, however, limited evidence was found for a difference in amygdala volumes between PTSD patients who were exposed to childhood maltreatment and controls in a small meta-analysis (Woon and Hedges, 2008), though smaller volumes have been reported in other studies (Vermetten et al., 2006; Weniger et al., 2008, 2009; Irle et al., 2009), as well as in adult borderline patients with a history of childhood abuse (Driessen et al., 2000; Schmahl et al., 2003), which is in line with our current results. "
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