Childhood Threat Is Associated With Lower Resting-State Connectivity Within a Central Visceral Network

Front Psychol. 2022 Mar 3;13:805049. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.805049. eCollection 2022.


Childhood adversity is associated with altered or dysregulated stress reactivity; these altered patterns of physiological functioning persist into adulthood. Evidence from both preclinical animal models and human neuroimaging studies indicates that early life experience differentially influences stressor-evoked activity within central visceral neural circuits proximally involved in the control of stress responses, including the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC), paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN), bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) and amygdala. However, the relationship between childhood adversity and the resting-state connectivity of this central visceral network remains unclear. To this end, we examined relationships between childhood threat and childhood socioeconomic deprivation, the resting-state connectivity between our regions of interest (ROIs), and affective symptom severity and diagnoses. We recruited a transdiagnostic sample of young adult males and females (n = 100; mean age = 27.28, SD = 3.99; 59 females) with a full distribution of maltreatment history and symptom severity across multiple affective disorders. Resting-state data were acquired using a 7.2-min functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) sequence; noted ROIs were applied as masks to determine ROI-to-ROI connectivity. Threat was determined by measures of childhood traumatic events and abuse. Socioeconomic deprivation (SED) was determined by a measure of childhood socioeconomic status (parental education level). Covarying for age, race and sex, greater childhood threat was significantly associated with lower BNST-PVN, amygdala-sgACC and PVN-sgACC connectivity. No significant relationships were found between SED and resting-state connectivity. BNST-PVN connectivity was associated with the number of lifetime affective diagnoses. Exposure to threat during early development may entrain altered patterns of resting-state connectivity between these stress-related ROIs in ways that contribute to dysregulated neural and physiological responses to stress and subsequent affective psychopathology.

Keywords: affective disorders; amygdala; bed nucleus of stria terminalis; childhood trauma; extended amygdala; hypothalamus; subgenual anterior cingulate cortex.