Corticostriatal-limbic gray matter morphology in adolescents with self-reported exposure to childhood maltreatment

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011 Dec;165(12):1069-77. doi: 10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.565.


Objective: To study the relationship between self-reported exposure to childhood maltreatment (CM) and cerebral gray matter (GM) morphology in adolescents without psychiatric diagnoses.

Design: Associations were examined between regional GM morphology and exposure to CM (measured using a childhood trauma self-report questionnaire for physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and for physical and emotional neglect).

Setting: University hospital.

Participants: Forty-two adolescents without psychiatric diagnoses.

Main outcome measures: Correlations between childhood trauma self-report questionnaire scores and regional GM volume were assessed in voxel-based analyses of structural magnetic resonance images. Relationships among GM volume, subtypes of exposure to CM, and sex were explored.

Results: Childhood trauma self-report questionnaire total scores correlated negatively (P < .005) with GM volume in prefrontal cortex, striatum, amygdala, sensory association cortices, and cerebellum. Physical abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect were associated with rostral prefrontal reductions. Decreases in dorsolateral and orbitofrontal cortices, insula, and ventral striatum were associated with physical abuse. Decreases in cerebellum were associated with physical neglect. Decreases in dorsolateral, orbitofrontal, and subgenual prefrontal cortices, striatum, amygdala, hippocampus, and cerebellum were associated with emotional neglect. Decreases in the latter emotion regulation regions were also associated with childhood trauma self-report questionnaire scores in girls, while caudate reductions (which may relate to impulse dyscontrol) were seen in boys.

Conclusions: Exposure to CM was associated with corticostriatal-limbic GM reductions in adolescents. Even if adolescents reporting exposure to CM do not present with symptoms that meet full criteria for psychiatric disorders, they may have corticostriatal-limbic GM morphologic alterations that place them at risk for behavioral difficulties. Vulnerabilities may be moderated by sex and by subtypes of exposure to CM.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / pathology*
  • Linear Models
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Self Disclosure
  • Sex Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires