Maltreatment-related childhood adversity is the leading preventable risk factor for mental illness and substance abuse. Although the association between maltreatment and psychopathology is compelling, there is a pressing need to understand how maltreatment increases the risk of psychiatric disorders. Emerging evidence suggests that maltreatment alters trajectories of brain development to affect sensory systems, network architecture and circuits involved in threat detection, emotional regulation and reward anticipation. This Review explores whether these alterations reflect toxic effects of early-life stress or potentially adaptive modifications, the relationship between psychopathology and brain changes, and the distinction between resilience, susceptibility and compensation.
At a glance
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