Pubertal development mediates the association between family environment and brain structure and function in childhood

Dev Psychopathol. 2020 May;32(2):687-702. doi: 10.1017/S0954579419000580.


Psychosocial acceleration theory suggests that pubertal maturation is accelerated in response to adversity. In addition, suboptimal caregiving accelerates development of the amygdala-medial prefrontal cortex circuit. These findings may be related. Here, we assess whether associations between family environment and measures of the amygdala-medial prefrontal cortex circuit are mediated by pubertal development in more than 2000 9- and 10-year-old children from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study ( Using structural equation modeling, demographic, child-reported, and parent-reported data on family dynamics were compiled into a higher level family environment latent variable. Magnetic resonance imaging preprocessing and compilations were performed by the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study's data analysis core. Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) thickness, area, white matter fractional anisotropy, amygdala volume, and cingulo-opercular network-amygdala resting-state functional connectivity were assessed. For ACC cortical thickness and ACC fractional anisotropy, significant indirect effects indicated that a stressful family environment relates to more advanced pubertal stage and more mature brain structure. For cingulo-opercular network-amygdala functional connectivity, results indicated a trend in the expected direction. For ACC area, evidence for quadratic mediation by pubertal stage was found. Sex-stratified analyses suggest stronger results for girls. Despite small effect sizes, structural measures of circuits important for emotional behavior are associated with family environment and show initial evidence of accelerated pubertal development.

Keywords: accelerated development; amygdala–medial prefrontal cortex circuit; family environment; psychosocial acceleration theory; pubertal development.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Amygdala* / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain* / diagnostic imaging
  • Child
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neural Pathways
  • Prefrontal Cortex