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Maltreatment during childhood is a major risk factor for anxiety and depression, which are major public health problems. However, the underlying brain mechanism linking maltreatment and internalizing disorders remains poorly understood. Maltreatment may alter the activation of fear circuitry, but little is known about its impact on the connectivity of this circuitry in adolescence and whether such brain changes actually lead to internalizing symptoms. We examined the associations between experiences of maltreatment during childhood, resting-state functional brain connectivity (rs-FC) of the amygdala and hippocampus, and internalizing symptoms in 64 adolescents participating in a longitudinal community study. Childhood experiences of maltreatment were associated with lower hippocampus–subgenual cingulate rs-FC in both adolescent females and males and lower amygdala–subgenual cingulate rs-FC in females only. Furthermore, rs-FC mediated the association of maltreatment during childhood with adolescent internalizing symptoms. Thus, maltreatment in childhood, even at the lower severity levels found in a community sample, may alter the regulatory capacity of the brain’s fear circuit, leading to increased internalizing symptoms by late adolescence. These findings highlight the importance of fronto–hippocampal connectivity for both sexes in internalizing symptoms following maltreatment in childhood. Furthermore, the impact of maltreatment during childhood on both fronto–amygdala and –hippocampal connectivity in females may help explain their higher risk for internalizing disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Compared to the general population, youth in foster care experience multiple psychosocial difficulties due to exceptionally high rates of maltreatment. Many youth in care receive psychological and/or psychotropic treatment but not all require or are willing to accept that level of intervention. For many, a “mental health” approach feels pathologizing. Nevertheless, these youth have suffered maltreatment and interventions to improve their ability to cope with past trauma and their often uncertain present are clearly needed. Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) provides an alternative perspective on suffering and can be framed as a wellness intervention that is appropriate for all humans. The present study examined whether a 6-week CBCT intervention would improve psychosocial functioning among adolescents in foster care. Seventy adolescents were randomized to CBCT (twice weekly) or a wait-list condition. Youth were assessed at baseline and after 6 weeks. Groups did not differ on measures of psychosocial functioning following training; however practice frequency was associated with increased hopefulness and a trend for a decrease in generalized anxiety. Qualitative results indicated that participants found CBCT useful for dealing with daily life stressors. Adolescents in care were willing to engage in CBCT. The majority reported CBCT was very helpful and almost all reported they would recommend CBCT to a friend. Participants reported specific instances of using CBCT strategies to regulate emotion, manage stress, or to respond more compassionately towards others. Standardized self-report measures were not sensitive to qualitative reports of improved functioning, suggesting the need for measures more sensitive to the positive changes noted or longer training periods to demonstrate effects. Practical issues surrounding implementation of such programs in high-risk youth populations are identified. Recommendations are provided for further development.
The tensor-based morphometry (TBM) has been widely used in characterizing tissue volume difference between populations at voxel level. We present a novel computational framework for investigating the white matter connectivity using TBM. Unlike other diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) based white matter connectivity studies, we do not use DTI but only T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). To construct brain network graphs, we have developed a new data-driven approach called the e-neighbor method that does not need any predetermined parcellation. The proposed pipeline is applied in detecting the topological alteration of the white matter connectivity in maltreated children.