Is resting-state functional connectivity in adults different if they faced emotional maltreatment in childhood? Psychol Med. 2013 Sep


Childhood Emotional maltreatment (CEM) of children is a major public health problem.Growing research suggest that the negative consequences of this on mental health is enormous. Animal studies show that  emotional maltreatment have profound effect on brain morphology and behavior. Hippocampus , amygdala  and medial prefrontal cortex are affected.  Human studies showed reduced gray matter volumes in the left dorsal mPFC (dmPFC) in subjects who reported having experienced maltreatment. Resting state brain functional imaging can reveal whether there are any neural networks/areas that are showing abnormal connectivity or activity. Such abnormalities are found in disorders known to involve aberrant stress system reactivity and disturbed emotion regulation and self-processing, such as depression and anxiety. Would childhood maltreatment lead to abnormal resting-state functional connectivity (RSFC)?

S. J. A. van der Werff, J. N. Pannekoek, I. M. Veer, M.-J. van Tol, A. Aleman, D. J. Veltman, F. G. Zitman, S. A. R. B. Rombouts, B. M. Elzinga and N. J. A. van der Wee from Netherlands studied  RSFC using functional MRI. of the 301 subjects who underwent the MRI scanning protocol, 97 reported having experienced CEM. 43 subjects with only CEM ( ie no physical or sexual abuse) were included in this study.

Three networks studied:

DMN (default-mode network ): involved in the retrieval and manipulation of episodic memories and semantic knowledge, self-referential processing and prospective memory.  contain the precuneus cortex, posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), mPFC, lateral and inferior parietal cortex and ventral anterior cingulate cortex (vACC).

Salience network:  Identifies the most important internal and extrapersonal stimuli with respect to reaching or protecting a state of homeostatic equilibrium . This network contains the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and orbital frontoinsular cortex, along with several subcortical and limbic structures.

limbic network:  Involved in emotional processing and regulation and contains structures such as the amygdala and hippocampus and medial prefrontal structures such as the ACC.


The analysis show that there is aberrant connectivity of the amygdala and salience network. However no aberrant activity in DMN was seen.

Decreased negative RSFC in individuals reporting CEM between the right amygdala and a brain region containing the precuneus and parts of the superior division of the lateral occipital cortex was interesting. The aberrant connectivity of the precuneus with both the limbic network and the salience network in CEM is a novel finding with its possible relationship with disturbances of self- referential processing. Precuneus  is involved in visuospatial imagery, episodic memory encoding and retrieval  and self-referential processing .


CEM has significant effect on RSFC in the limbic network and the salience network. Regions that show aberrant connectivity are related to episodic memory encoding, retrieval and self-processing operations.

Comment: This adds to the growing literature on the biological, long-lasting effects of child maltreatment.

Summary of the article:

Resting-state functional connectivity in adults with childhood emotional maltreatment.

van der Werff SJ, Pannekoek JN, Veer IM, van Tol MJ, Aleman A, Veltman DJ, Zitman FG, Rombouts SA, Elzinga BM, van der Wee NJ.

Psychol Med. 2013 Sep;43(9):1825-36.

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