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Rev Neurol. 2011 Apr 16;52(8):489-503.

[Neurobiology of child abuse: the 'cycle of violence'].

[Article in Spanish]

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Departamento de Psicobiología, Facultad de Psicología, Universitat de València, Valencia, España.



A high level of stress at an early age, like that produced in the case of child abuse, can have crucial consequences for the development of the human brain.


This study aims to review and go over the main points of the results obtained by different clinical research works carried out on the structural and functional consequences of child abuse on the central nervous system. At the same it also seeks to integrate and relate them with those described in the case of violent adults.


Firstly, we establish the relationship between post-natal development of the brain and child abuse. Then, the most important changes in the brain, both in structural and functional terms, are reviewed and the main modulating variables are highlighted. Lastly, the neurobiological changes are related with the so-called 'cycle of violence'.


In addition to the individual differences and the diverse environmental, social and genetic factors that exert an influence on the consequences of abuse, there are neurobiological changes that affect their development both in the short and the long term. Some of the more significant structural changes are those affecting the hippocampus, the amygdala, the cerebellar structures, the corpus callosum and the cerebral cortex. Functional changes include cognitive sequelae, high levels of psychosocial stress, behavioural disorders and social problems, which are associated with a range of psycho-pathologies. These disorders are modulated by a series of different variables, such as the kind of abuse and the child's sex, and may be related to the changes observed in aggressive adults, which could contribute to perpetuate human violence.

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