Research Review: Neural response to threat in children, adolescents, and adults after child maltreatment - a quantitative meta-analysis

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2017 Mar;58(3):222-230. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12651. Epub 2016 Oct 25.


Background: Child maltreatment is common and has long-term consequences for affective function. Investigations of neural consequences of maltreatment have focused on the amygdala. However, developmental neuroscience indicates that other brain regions are also likely to be affected by child maltreatment, particularly in the social information processing network (SIPN). We conducted a quantitative meta-analysis to: confirm that maltreatment is related to greater bilateral amygdala activation in a large sample that was pooled across studies; investigate other SIPN structures that are likely candidates for altered function; and conduct a data-driven examination to identify additional regions that show altered activation in maltreated children, teens, and adults.

Methods: We conducted an activation likelihood estimation analysis with 1,733 participants across 20 studies of emotion processing in maltreated individuals.

Results: Maltreatment is associated with increased bilateral amygdala activation to emotional faces. One SIPN structure is altered: superior temporal gyrus, of the detection node, is hyperactive in maltreated individuals. The results of the whole-brain corrected analysis also show hyperactivation of the parahippocampal gyrus and insula in maltreated individuals.

Conclusions: The meta-analysis confirms that maltreatment is related to increased bilateral amygdala reactivity and also shows that maltreatment affects multiple additional structures in the brain that have received little attention in the literature. Thus, although the majority of studies examining maltreatment and brain function have focused on the amygdala, these findings indicate that the neural consequences of child maltreatment involve a broader network of structures.

Keywords: fMRI; Maltreatment; meta-analysis.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Amygdala / physiopathology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse*
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Social Perception*