Research shows how child abuse affects brain wiring

McGill Group for Suicide Studies

Child abuse has devastating and long-lasting consequences, considerably increasing the lifetime risk of negative mental health outcomes such as depression and suicide. Yet the neurobiological processes underlying this heightened vulnerability remain poorly understood. Research done in the laboratories of the McGill Group for Suicide Studies investigated the hypothesis that epigenetic, transcriptomic, and cellular adaptations may occur in a region of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex as a function of child abuse.

  • For the first time, researchers have been able to see changes in the neural structures in specific areas of the brains of people who suffered severe abuse as children.
  • Difficulties associated with severe childhood abuse include increased risks of psychiatric disorders such as depression, as well as high levels of impulsivity, aggressivity, anxiety, more frequent substance abuse, and suicide.
  • Severe, non-random physical and/or sexual child abuse affects between 5-15 % of all children under the age of 15 in the Western world.

Researchers from the McGill Group for Suicide Studies, based at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and McGill University’s Department of Psychiatry, have just published research in the American Journal of Psychiatry that suggests that the long-lasting effects of traumatic childhood experiences, like severe abuse, may be due to an impaired structure and functioning of cells in the anterior cingulate cortex. This is a part of the brain which plays an important role in the regulation of emotions and mood.

Read the full news story in McGill's Med E-News: Child abuse affects brain wiring

Read the original research article (subscription required)

Lutz PE, Tanti A, Gasecka A, Barnett-Burns S, Kim JJ, Zhou Y, Chen GG, Wakid M, Shaw M, Almeida D, Chay MA, Yang J, Larivière V, M'Boutchou MN, van Kempen LC, Yerko V, Prud'homme J, Davoli MA, Vaillancourt K, Théroux JF, Bramoullé A, Zhang TY, Meaney MJ, Ernst C, Côté D, Mechawar N, Turecki G. Association of a History of Child Abuse With Impaired Myelination in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex: Convergent Epigenetic, Transcriptional, and Morphological Evidence. Am J Psychiatry. 2017 Jul 28:appiajp201716111286. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.16111286.

Read the media coverage of this story:

Radio-Canada (Medium Large) | Comment la maltraitance infantile nuit au développement du cerveau
CJAD | Child abuse linked to changes in brain structure that may lead to depression, suicidal tendencies
Parents | La maltraitance infantile affecte les circuits cérébraux
Romper | Study finds how traumatic childhood experiences harm kids’ brains later in life
Le Figaro | Violences sur mineurs : des conséquences sur le développement de leur cerveau


McGill Logo

CIUSSS ouest montreal logo

 



  • Douglas Hospital
  • Dobell Pavillion
  • Brain imaging centre