Abuse, Neglect in Childhood Leads to Adolescent Reduction in Gray Matter

According to a study in the latest issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, children who are maltreated will demonstrate a measurable reduction in gray matter as they grow into adolescence, even if they never show signs of psychiatric illness. The study is among the first of its kind to focus on the adolescent brain.

Forty-two participants, aged 12 to 17 years, were selected based on answers to the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire, which is designed to highlight childhood maltreatment. High resolution MRI images were then taken of the youths' brains. A significantly lower-than-average volume of gray matter was noted in a number of brain regions, including the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and cerebellum.

The areas of the brain affected seem to depend on the type of maltreatment. For example, physical abuse leads to lowered gray matter volume in the rostral prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortices, among others, while neglect tends to most strongly affect the cerebellum.

Much work has been done on the effects of childhood abuse and neglect on the brains of adults, but given the nearly 3.7 million estimated annual cases of abuse, relatively little has been done on the adolescent brain. The authors also wanted to focus on cases with no clear psychiatric manifestations. It is important to realize, they say, that although an individual may not show psychological symptoms of trauma, measurable, physical damage is still being done.

The authors are also quick to point out that the sample size is very small, but hope that the results apparent in even such a small group will warrant larger studies.

Source: Medscape.com and the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine

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