Impact of early vs. late childhood early life stress on brain morphometrics
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- Baker, L.M., Williams, L.M., Korgaonkar, M.S. et al. Brain Imaging and Behavior (2013) 7: 196. doi:10.1007/s11682-012-9215-y
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Previous studies of early life trauma suggest that in addition to its emotional impact, exposure to early life stress (ELS) is associated with alterations in brain structure. However, little attention has been devoted to the relationship between emotional processing and brain integrity as a function of age of ELS onset. In the present study we examined whether ELS onset in older ages of youth rather than younger ages is associated with smaller limbic and basal ganglia volumes as measured by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We hypothesized that later age of manifestation during youth is associated with smaller volumetric morphology in limbic and basal ganglia volumes in adulthood. A total of 173 individuals were divided into three groups based on the age of self-reported ELS. The three groups included individuals only experiencing early childhood ELS (1 month–7 years, n = 38), those only experiencing later childhood ELS (8 years –17 years, n = 59), and those who have not experienced ELS (n = 76). Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), hippocampus, amygdala, insula and caudate volumes were measured using a T1-weighted MRI. Analyses confirmed that later childhood ELS was associated with volumetric reductions in the ACC and insula volumes, while ELS experienced between the ages of 1 month and 7 years was not associated with lower brain volumes in these regions. The results may reflect the influence of more fully developed emotional processing of ELS on the developing brain and reinforce a body of research implicating both the ACC and insula in neuropsychiatric disorders and emotional regulation.