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Metab Brain Dis. 2014 Jun;29(2):311-21. doi: 10.1007/s11011-014-9489-4. Epub 2014 Feb 5.

Childhood adversity is linked to differential brain volumes in adolescents with alcohol use disorder: a voxel-based morphometry study.

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University of Cape Town, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa,


Previous neuroimaging studies link both alcohol use disorder (AUD) and early adversity to neurobiological differences in the adult brain. However, the association between AUD and childhood adversity and effects on the developing adolescent brain are less clear, due in part to the confound of psychiatric comorbidity. Here we examine early life adversity and its association with brain volume in a unique sample of 116 South African adolescents (aged 12-16) with AUD but without psychiatric comorbidity. Participants were 58 adolescents with DSM-IV alcohol dependence and with no other psychiatric comorbidities, and 58 age-, gender- and protocol-matched light/non-drinking controls (HC). Assessments included the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ). MR images were acquired on a 3T Siemens Magnetom Allegra scanner. Volumes of global and regional structures were estimated using SPM8 Voxel Based Morphometry (VBM), with analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) and regression analyses. In whole brain ANCOVA analyses, a main effect of group when examining the AUD effect after covarying out CTQ was observed on brain volume in bilateral superior temporal gyrus. Subsequent regression analyses to examine how childhood trauma scores are linked to brain volumes in the total cohort revealed a negative correlation in the left hippocampus and right precentral gyrus. Furthermore, bilateral (but most significantly left) hippocampal volume was negatively associated with sub-scores on the CTQ in the total cohort. These findings support our view that some alterations found in brain volumes in studies of adolescent AUD may reflect the impact of confounding factors such as psychiatric comorbidity rather than the effects of alcohol per se. In particular, early life adversity may influence the developing adolescent brain in specific brain regions, such as the hippocampus.

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