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Biol Psychiatry. 2015 Feb 15;77(4):314-23. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.04.020. Epub 2014 May 23.

Behavioral problems after early life stress: contributions of the hippocampus and amygdala.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, Waisman Center University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin; Center for Investigating Healthy Minds University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin. Electronic address: jlh125@duke.edu.
2
School of Medicine & Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.
3
Departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa.
4
Center for Investigating Healthy Minds University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.
5
Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois.
6
Department of Human Development and Family Studies, (EAS), Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
7
Department of Psychology, Waisman Center University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.
8
Department of Psychology, Waisman Center University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin; Center for Investigating Healthy Minds University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Early life stress (ELS) can compromise development, with higher amounts of adversity linked to behavioral problems. To understand this linkage, a growing body of research has examined two brain regions involved with socioemotional functioning-amygdala and hippocampus. Yet empirical studies have reported increases, decreases, and no differences within human and nonhuman animal samples exposed to different forms of ELS. This divergence in findings may stem from methodological factors, nonlinear effects of ELS, or both.

METHODS:

We completed rigorous hand-tracing of the amygdala and hippocampus in three samples of children who experienced different forms of ELS (i.e., physical abuse, early neglect, or low socioeconomic status). Interviews were also conducted with children and their parents or guardians to collect data about cumulative life stress. The same data were also collected in a fourth sample of comparison children who had not experienced any of these forms of ELS.

RESULTS:

Smaller amygdala volumes were found for children exposed to these different forms of ELS. Smaller hippocampal volumes were also noted for children who were physically abused or from low socioeconomic status households. Smaller amygdala and hippocampal volumes were also associated with greater cumulative stress exposure and behavioral problems. Hippocampal volumes partially mediated the relationship between ELS and greater behavioral problems.

CONCLUSIONS:

This study suggests ELS may shape the development of brain areas involved with emotion processing and regulation in similar ways. Differences in the amygdala and hippocampus may be a shared diathesis for later negative outcomes related to ELS.

KEYWORDS:

Abuse; Amygdala; Chronic stress; Development; Early life stress; Emotion; Hippocampus; Limbic system; Medial temporal lobe; Neglect; Neural plasticity; Neuroimaging; Poverty; Stress

PMID:
24993057
PMCID:
PMC4241384
DOI:
10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.04.020
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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