Resting-state functional connectivity patterns associated with childhood maltreatment in a large bicentric cohort of adults with and without major depression

Psychol Med. 2023 Jul;53(10):4720-4731. doi: 10.1017/S0033291722001623. Epub 2022 Jun 27.


Background: Childhood maltreatment (CM) represents a potent risk factor for major depressive disorder (MDD), including poorer treatment response. Altered resting-state connectivity in the fronto-limbic system has been reported in maltreated individuals. However, previous results in smaller samples differ largely regarding localization and direction of effects.

Methods: We included healthy and depressed samples [n = 624 participants with MDD; n = 701 healthy control (HC) participants] that underwent resting-state functional MRI measurements and provided retrospective self-reports of maltreatment using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. A-priori defined regions of interest [ROI; amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)] were used to calculate seed-to-voxel connectivities.

Results: No significant associations between maltreatment and resting-state connectivity of any ROI were found across MDD and HC participants and no interaction effect with diagnosis became significant. Investigating MDD patients only yielded maltreatment-associated increased connectivity between the amygdala and dorsolateral frontal areas [pFDR < 0.001; η2partial = 0.050; 95%-CI (0.023-0.085)]. This effect was robust across various sensitivity analyses and was associated with concurrent and previous symptom severity. Particularly strong amygdala-frontal associations with maltreatment were observed in acutely depressed individuals [n = 264; pFDR < 0.001; η2partial = 0.091; 95%-CI (0.038-0.166)). Weaker evidence - not surviving correction for multiple ROI analyses - was found for altered supracallosal ACC connectivity in HC individuals associated with maltreatment.

Conclusions: The majority of previous resting-state connectivity correlates of CM could not be replicated in this large-scale study. The strongest evidence was found for clinically relevant maltreatment associations with altered adult amygdala-dorsolateral frontal connectivity in depression. Future studies should explore the relevance of this pathway for a maltreated subgroup of MDD patients.

Keywords: adverse childhood experiences; amygdala; childhood maltreatment; depression; emotion regulation; resting-state functional connectivity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse*
  • Depression
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Limbic System
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Retrospective Studies