White matter disruptions in adolescents exposed to childhood maltreatment and vulnerability to psychopathology

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2012 Nov;37(12):2693-701. doi: 10.1038/npp.2012.133. Epub 2012 Aug 1.


Childhood maltreatment has been known to produce long-lasting impairments in behavioral, cognitive and social functioning, but their underlying mechanisms are not well-understood. A better understanding of their underlying mechanisms will aid in developing effective preventive interventions. Nineteen adolescent volunteers with no personal history of a psychiatric illness, but who were exposed to maltreatment during childhood, and 13 adolescent volunteers with no personal or family history of a psychiatric disorder (controls) underwent diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) studies. The participants were then followed longitudinally at 6-month intervals for up to 5 years to determine the onset of mood and substance use disorders. The associations among fractional anisotropy (FA) values obtained from the DTI scans at baseline and psychopathology at follow-up were examined. At baseline, adolescents exposed to childhood maltreatment had significantly lower FA values in the left and right superior longitudinal fasciculi, right cingulum bundle projecting to the hippocampus, left inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, and splenium of the corpus callosum compared with controls. Adolescents who developed major depressive disorder at follow-up had significantly lower FA values in the superior longitudinal fasciculi and the right cingulum-hippocampal projection compared with their counterparts who did not develop the illness. Adolescents who developed substance use disorder during follow-up had significantly lower FA values in the right cingulum-hippocampal projection than their counterparts without the disorder. These preliminary results suggest that white matter disruptions observed in adolescents exposed to childhood maltreatment may be associated with increased vulnerability to psychopathology, specifically depressive and substance use disorders.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anisotropy
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Depression / psychology
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / pathology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors