Original Article

Neuropsychopharmacology (2012) 37, 2693–2701; doi:10.1038/npp.2012.133; published online 1 August 2012

White Matter Disruptions in Adolescents Exposed to Childhood Maltreatment and Vulnerability to Psychopathology

Hao Huang1,2, Tejasvi Gundapuneedi1 and Uma Rao3,4,5,6

  1. 1Advanced Imaging Research Center, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX, USA
  2. 2Department of Radiology, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX, USA
  3. 3Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Meharry Medical College, Nashville, TN, USA
  4. 4Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Meharry Medical College, Nashville, TN, USA
  5. 5Department of Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN, USA
  6. 6Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA

Correspondence: Dr U Rao, Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Meharry Medical College, 1005 Dr DB Todd Jr Boulevard, Nashville, TN 37208, USA. Tel: +1 615 327 6875, Fax: +1 615 327 6144. E-mail: urao@mmc.edu

Received 2 April 2012; Revised 30 May 2012; Accepted 27 June 2012
Advance online publication 1 August 2012

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Abstract

Childhood maltreatment has been known to produce long-lasting impairments in behavioral, cognitive and social functioning, but their underlying mechanisms are not well-understood. A better understanding of their underlying mechanisms will aid in developing effective preventive interventions. Nineteen adolescent volunteers with no personal history of a psychiatric illness, but who were exposed to maltreatment during childhood, and 13 adolescent volunteers with no personal or family history of a psychiatric disorder (controls) underwent diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) studies. The participants were then followed longitudinally at 6-month intervals for up to 5 years to determine the onset of mood and substance use disorders. The associations among fractional anisotropy (FA) values obtained from the DTI scans at baseline and psychopathology at follow-up were examined. At baseline, adolescents exposed to childhood maltreatment had significantly lower FA values in the left and right superior longitudinal fasciculi, right cingulum bundle projecting to the hippocampus, left inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, and splenium of the corpus callosum compared with controls. Adolescents who developed major depressive disorder at follow-up had significantly lower FA values in the superior longitudinal fasciculi and the right cingulum-hippocampal projection compared with their counterparts who did not develop the illness. Adolescents who developed substance use disorder during follow-up had significantly lower FA values in the right cingulum-hippocampal projection than their counterparts without the disorder. These preliminary results suggest that white matter disruptions observed in adolescents exposed to childhood maltreatment may be associated with increased vulnerability to psychopathology, specifically depressive and substance use disorders.

Keywords:

adolescent; DTI; maltreatment; psychopathology; superior longitudinal fasciculus; white matter

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