Neurostructural traces of early life adversities: A meta-analysis exploring age- and adversity-specific effects

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2022 Apr:135:104589. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2022.104589. Epub 2022 Feb 18.


Early life adversities (ELAs) are associated with an increased risk of psychopathology, with studies suggesting a relation to structural brain alterations. Given the recently growing evidence of ELA effects on brain structure, an updated summary is highly warranted. Therefore, anatomical likelihood estimation was used to conduct a coordinate-based meta-analysis of gray matter volume (GMV) alterations associated with ELAs, including sub-analyses for different age groups and maltreatment as specific ELA-type. The analyses uncovered a convergence of pooled ELA-effects on GMV in the right hippocampus and amygdala and the left inferior frontal gyrus, age-specific effects for the right amygdala and hippocampus in children and adolescents, and maltreatment-specific effects for the right perigenual anterior cingulate cortex in adults. These results reveal a possible underlying commonality in the impact of adversity and also point to specific age and maltreatment effects. They suggest neural markers of ELAs in regions involved in socio-emotional functioning and stress regulation, with the potential to be used as targets for interventions designed to buffer or reverse harmful ELA-effects.

Keywords: Childhood adversity; Early life stress; Magnetic resonance imaging.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / pathology
  • Child
  • Emotions
  • Gray Matter* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Temporal Lobe