Studies report early childhood trauma takes visible toll on brain

October 16, 2012

Trauma in infancy and childhood shapes the brain, learning, and behavior, and fuels changes that can last a lifetime, according to new human and animal research released today. The studies delve into the effects of early physical abuse, socioeconomic status (SES), and maternal treatment. Documenting the impact of early trauma on brain circuitry and volume, the activation of genes, and working memory, researchers suggest it increases the risk of mental disorders, as well as heart disease and stress-related conditions in adulthood.

The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2012, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world's largest source of emerging news about and health.

Today's findings show:

  • Physical abuse in early childhood may realign communication between key "body-control" brain areas, possibly predisposing adults to cardiovascular disease and (Layla Banihashemi, PhD, abstract 691.12, see attached summary).
  • Rodent studies provide insight into brain changes that allow tolerance of pain within mother-pup attachment (Regina Sullivan, PhD, abstract 399.19, see attached summary).
  • Childhood poverty is associated with changes in working memory and attention years later in adults; yet training in childhood is associated with improved cognitive functions (Eric Pakulak, PhD, abstract 908.04, see attached summary).
  • experienced by infant primates leads to fearful and aggressive behaviors; these are associated with changes in stress hormone production and in the development of the amygdala (Mar Sanchez, PhD, abstract 691.10, see attached summary).
Another recent finding discussed shows that:
  • Parent education and income is associated with children's , including structures important for memory and emotion (Suzanne Houston, MA, see attached speaker's summary).
"While we are becoming fully aware, in general, of the devastating impact that early life adversity has on the developing brain, today's findings reveal specific changes in targeted brain regions and the long-lasting nature of these alterations," said press conference moderator Bruce McEwen, PhD, from The Rockefeller University, an expert on stress and its effects on early brain development. "In doing so, this research points not only to new directions for the improved detection and treatment of resulting cognitive impairment, mental health disorders, and chronic diseases, but also emphasizes the importance of preventing early life abuse and neglect in the first place."

Explore further: Developing brain is source of stability and instability in adolescence

Related Stories

Developing brain is source of stability and instability in adolescence

October 15, 2012
The brain's "reward system," those brain circuits and structures that mediate the experience and pursuit of pleasure, figured prominently in several studies. The studies shed light on adolescents' ability to control impulsivity ...

New research reveals more about how the brain processes facial expressions and emotions

October 15, 2012
Research released today helps reveal how human and primate brains process and interpret facial expressions, and the role of facial mimicry in everything from deciphering an unclear smile to establishing relationships of power ...

New tools for Alzheimer's may aid early diagnosis and treatment

October 15, 2012
Curtailing the imminent rise in Alzheimer's disease (AD) will require early, accurate diagnostic tests and treatments, and researchers are closer to achieving these two goals. New findings in medical imaging, molecular analysis ...

Recommended for you

'Residual echo' of ancient humans in scans may hold clues to mental disorders

July 26, 2017
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have produced the first direct evidence that parts of our brains implicated in mental disorders may be shaped by a "residual echo" from our ancient past. The more ...

Cellular roots of anxiety identified

July 26, 2017
From students stressing over exams to workers facing possible layoffs, worrying about the future is a normal and universal experience. But when people's anticipation of bad things to come starts interfering with daily life, ...

Laser used to reawaken lost memories in mice with Alzheimer's disease

July 26, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers at Columbia University has found that applying a laser to the part of a mouse brain used for memory storage caused the mice to recall memories lost due to a mouse version of Alzheimer's ...

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

Zebrafish study reveals clues to healing spinal cord injuries

July 25, 2017
Fresh insights into how zebrafish repair their nerve connections could hold clues to new therapies for people with spinal cord injuries.

Lutein may counter cognitive aging, study finds

July 25, 2017
Spinach and kale are favorites of those looking to stay physically fit, but they also could keep consumers cognitively fit, according to a new study from University of Illinois researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.