Abnormal brain connectivity in children after early severe socioemotional deprivation: a diffusion tensor imaging study

Pediatrics. 2006 Jun;117(6):2093-100. doi: 10.1542/peds.2005-1727.


Objectives: We previously reported that children who were subjected to early socioemotional deprivation in Romanian orphanages showed glucose hypometabolism in limbic and paralimbic structures, including the orbital frontal gyrus, infralimbic prefrontal cortex, hippocampus/amygdala, lateral temporal cortex, and the brainstem. The present study used diffusion tensor imaging tractography to examine the integrity of white matter tracts that connect these brain regions.

Methods: Fractional anisotropy and apparent diffusion coefficient for uncinate fasciculus, stria terminalis, fornix, and cingulum were measured in 7 right-handed children (5 girls and 2 boys; mean age: 9.7 +/- 2.6 years) with a history of early severe socioemotional deprivation in Eastern European orphanages and compared with similar measurements in 7 right-handed normal children (4 girls and 3 boys; mean age: 10.7 +/- 2.8 years).

Results: Neuropsychological assessment of the orphans verified the relatively mild specific cognitive impairment and impulsivity consistent with previous studies of children who were adopted from Romanian orphanages. Fractional anisotropy values in the left uncinate fasciculus were decreased significantly in the early deprivation group compared with control subjects. Apparent diffusion coefficient values for the early deprivation group tended to be greater than that in control subjects in all of the tracts measured, without reaching statistical significance.

Conclusion: Our study demonstrates in children who experienced socioemotional deprivation a structural change in the left uncinate fasciculus that partly may underlie the cognitive, socioemotional, and behavioral difficulties that commonly are observed in these children.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychosocial Deprivation*
  • Severity of Illness Index