Child abuse (CA) is a strong predictor of psychopathologies and suicide, altering normal trajectories of brain development in areas closely linked to emotional responses such as the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Yet, the cellular underpinnings of these enduring effects are unclear. Childhood and adolescence are marked by the protracted formation of perineuronal nets (PNNs), which orchestrate the closure of developmental windows of cortical plasticity by regulating the functional integration of parvalbumin interneurons into neuronal circuits. Using well-characterized post-mortem brain samples, we show that a history of CA is specifically associated with increased densities and morphological complexity of WFL-labeled PNNs in the ventromedial PFC (BA11/12), possibly suggesting increased recruitment and maturation of PNNs. Through single-nucleus sequencing and fluorescent in situ hybridization, we found that the expression of canonical components of PNNs is enriched in oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs), and that they are upregulated in CA victims. These correlational findings suggest that early-life adversity may lead to persistent patterns of maladaptive behaviors by reducing the neuroplasticity of cortical circuits through the enhancement of developmental OPC-mediated PNN formation.
© 2021. The Author(s).