Harsh corporal punishment (HCP) was defined as frequent parental administration of corporal punishment (CP) for discipline, with occasional use of objects such as straps, or paddles. CP is linked to increased risk for depression and substance abuse. We examine whether long-term exposure to HCP acts as sub-traumatic stressor that contributes to brain alterations, particularly in dopaminergic pathways, which may mediate their increased vulnerability to drug and alcohol abuse. Nineteen young adults who experienced early HCP but no other forms of maltreatment and twenty-three comparable controls were studied. T2 relaxation time (T2-RT) measurements were performed with an echo planar imaging TE stepping technique and T2 maps were calculated and analyzed voxel-by-voxel to locate regional T2-RT differences between groups. Previous studies indicated that T2-RT provides an indirect index of resting cerebral blood volume. Region of interest (ROI) analyses were also conducted in caudate, putamen, nucleus accumbens, anterior cingulate cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, thalamus, globus pallidus and cerebellar hemispheres. Voxel-based relaxometry showed that HCP was associated with increased T2-RT in right caudate and putamen. ROI analyses also revealed increased T2-RT in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, substantia nigra, thalamus and accumbens but not globus pallidus or cerebellum. There were significant associations between T2-RT measures in dopamine target regions and use of drugs and alcohol, and memory performance. Alteration in the paramagnetic or hemodynamic properties of dopaminergic cell body and projection regions were observed in subjects with HCP, and these findings may relate to their increased risk for drug and alcohol abuse.
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