Lower structural integrity of the uncinate fasciculus is associated with a history of child maltreatment and future psychological vulnerability to stress

Dev Psychopathol. 2015 Nov;27(4 Pt 2):1611-9. doi: 10.1017/S0954579415000978.


The experience of child maltreatment is a significant risk factor for the development of later internalizing disorders such as depression and anxiety. This risk is particularly heightened after exposure to additional, more contemporaneous stress. While behavioral evidence exists for such "stress sensitization," little is known about the mechanisms mediating such relationships, particularly within the brain. Here we report that the experience of child maltreatment independent of recent life stress, gender, and age is associated with reduced structural integrity of the uncinate fasciculus, a major white matter pathway between the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, in young adults. We further demonstrate that individuals with lower uncinate fasciculus integrity at baseline who subsequently experience stressful life events report higher levels of internalizing symptomatology at follow-up. Our findings suggest a novel neurobiological mechanism linking child maltreatment with later internalizing symptoms, specifically altered structural connectivity within the brain's threat-detection and emotion-regulation circuitry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affective Symptoms / physiopathology*
  • Amygdala / pathology
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Child Abuse*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / pathology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / pathology
  • White Matter / pathology*
  • Young Adult