Structural variations in prefrontal cortex mediate the relationship between early childhood stress and spatial working memory
The Journal of Neuroscience
Format: Journal Article
Sources ID: 23211
Zotero Collections: Contexts of Contemplation Project
A large corpus of research indicates exposure to stress impairs cognitive abilities, specifically executive functioning dependent on the prefrontal cortex (PFC). We collected structural MRI scans (n=61), well-validated assessments of executive functioning, and detailed interviews assessing stress exposure in humans, to examine whether cumulative life stress affected brain morphometry and one type of executive functioning, spatial working memory, during adolescence—a critical time of brain development and reorganization. Analysis of variations in brain structure revealed that cumulative life stress and spatial working memory were related to smaller volumes in the PFC, specifically prefrontal gray and white matter between the anterior cingulate and the frontal poles. Mediation analyses revealed that individual differences in prefrontal volumes accounted for the association between cumulative life stress and spatial working memory. These results suggest that structural changes in the PFC may serve as a mediating mechanism through which greater cumulative life stress engenders decrements in cognitive functioning.