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Enhanced prefrontal-amygdala connectivity following childhood adversity as a protective mechanism against internalizing in adolescence.

Author information

1
Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine & Public Health, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.
2
Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.
3
Department of Psychology, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
4
Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine & Public Health, Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin - Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Much research has focused on the deleterious neurobiological effects of childhood adversity that may underlie internalizing disorders. While most youth show emotional adaptation following adversity, the corresponding neural mechanisms remain poorly understood.

METHODS:

In this longitudinal community study, we examined the associations among childhood family adversity, adolescent internalizing symptoms, and their interaction on regional brain activation and amygdala/hippocampus functional connectivity during emotion processing in 132 adolescents.

RESULTS:

Consistent with prior work, childhood adversity predicted heightened amygdala reactivity to negative, but not positive, images in adolescence. However, amygdala reactivity was not related to internalizing symptoms. Furthermore, childhood adversity predicted increased fronto-amygdala connectivity to negative, but not positive, images, yet only in lower internalizing adolescents. Childhood adversity also predicted increased fronto-hippocampal connectivity to negative images, but was not moderated by internalizing. These findings were unrelated to adolescence adversity or externalizing symptoms, suggesting specificity to childhood adversity and adolescent internalizing.

CONCLUSIONS:

Together, these findings suggest that adaptation to childhood adversity is associated with augmentation of fronto-subcortical circuits specifically for negative emotional stimuli. Conversely, insufficient enhancement of fronto-amygdala connectivity, with increasing amygdala reactivity, may represent a neural signature of vulnerability for internalizing by late adolescence. These findings implicate early childhood as a critical period in determining the brain's adaptation to adversity, and suggest that even normative adverse experiences can have significant impact on neurodevelopment and functioning. These results offer potential neural mechanisms of adaptation and vulnerability which could be used in the prediction of risk for psychopathology following childhood adversity.

KEYWORDS:

adolescence; anxiety; childhood adversity; depression; neuroimaging; stress adaptation

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