Under typical conditions, medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) connections with the amygdala are immature during childhood and become adult-like during adolescence. Rodent models show that maternal deprivation accelerates this development, prompting examination of human amygdala-mPFC phenotypes following maternal deprivation. Previously institutionalized youths, who experienced early maternal deprivation, exhibited atypical amygdala-mPFC connectivity. Specifically, unlike the immature connectivity (positive amygdala-mPFC coupling) of comparison children, children with a history of early adversity evidenced mature connectivity (negative amygdala-mPFC coupling) and thus, resembled the adolescent phenotype. This connectivity pattern was mediated by the hormone cortisol, suggesting that stress-induced modifications of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis shape amygdala-mPFC circuitry. Despite being age-atypical, negative amygdala-mPFC coupling conferred some degree of reduced anxiety, although anxiety was still significantly higher in the previously institutionalized group. These findings suggest that accelerated amygdala-mPFC development is an ontogenetic adaptation in response to early adversity.
Keywords: emotion regulation; fMRI; neurodevelopment; stress.