Local brain functional activity following early deprivation: a study of postinstitutionalized Romanian orphans

Neuroimage. 2001 Dec;14(6):1290-301. doi: 10.1006/nimg.2001.0917.


Early global deprivation of institutionalized children may result in persistent specific cognitive and behavioral deficits. In order to examine brain dysfunction underlying these deficits, we have applied positron emission tomography using 2-deoxy-2-[(18)F]fluoro-D-glucose in 10 children (6 males, 4 females, mean age 8.8 years) adopted from Romanian orphanages. Using statistical parametric mapping (SPM), the pattern of brain glucose metabolism in the orphans was compared to the patterns obtained from two control groups: (i) a group of 17 normal adults (9 males, 8 females, mean age 27.6 years) and (ii) a group of 7 children (5 males and 2 females, mean age 10.7 years) with medically refractory focal epilepsy, but normal glucose metabolism pattern in the contralateral hemisphere. Consistent with previous studies of children adopted from Romanian orphanages, neuropsychological assessment of Romanian orphans in the present study showed mild neurocognitive impairment, impulsivity, and attention and social deficits. Comparing the normalized glucose metabolic rates to those of normal adults, the Romanian orphans showed significantly decreased metabolism bilaterally in the orbital frontal gyrus, the infralimbic prefrontal cortex, the medial temporal structures (amygdala and head of hippocampus), the lateral temporal cortex, and the brain stem. These findings were confirmed using a region-of-interest approach. SPM analysis showed significantly decreased glucose metabolism in the same brain regions comparing the orphans to the nonepileptic hemisphere of the childhood epilepsy controls. Dysfunction of these brain regions may result from the stress of early global deprivation and may be involved in the long-term cognitive and behavioral deficits displayed by some Romanian orphans.

MeSH terms

  • Adoption
  • Adult
  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Brain Stem / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Child, Institutionalized* / psychology
  • Female
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Hippocampus / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / diagnostic imaging*
  • Male
  • Orphanages*
  • Psychosocial Deprivation*
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Risk Factors
  • Romania / ethnology
  • United States


  • Blood Glucose
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18