Early adversity and brain response to faces in young adulthood

Hum Brain Mapp. 2017 Sep;38(9):4470-4478. doi: 10.1002/hbm.23674. Epub 2017 Jun 14.


Early stressors play a key role in shaping interindividual differences in vulnerability to various psychopathologies, which according to the diathesis-stress model might relate to the elevated glucocorticoid secretion and impaired responsiveness to stress. Furthermore, previous studies have shown that individuals exposed to early adversity have deficits in emotion processing from faces. This study aims to explore whether early adversities associate with brain response to faces and whether this association might associate with the regional variations in mRNA expression of the glucocorticoid receptor gene (NR3C1). A total of 104 individuals drawn from the Northern Finland Brith Cohort 1986 participated in a face-task functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study. A large independent dataset (IMAGEN, N = 1739) was utilized for reducing fMRI data-analytical space in the NFBC 1986 dataset. Early adversities were associated with deviant brain response to fearful faces (MANCOVA, P = 0.006) and with weaker performance in fearful facial expression recognition (P = 0.01). Glucocorticoid receptor gene expression (data from the Allen Human Brain Atlas) correlated with the degree of associations between early adversities and brain response to fearful faces (R2 = 0.25, P = 0.01) across different brain regions. Our results suggest that early adversities contribute to brain response to faces and that this association is mediated in part by the glucocorticoid system. Hum Brain Mapp 38:4470-4478, 2017. © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: cohort study; early adversity; fMRI; gene expression; glucocorticoid receptor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult Survivors of Child Adverse Events*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Facial Recognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / metabolism*
  • Young Adult


  • NR3C1 protein, human
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid
  • Oxygen