Specific Changes in Brain Structure After Different Forms of Child Abuse
June 1, 2013 — Different forms of childhood abuse increase the risk for mental illness as well as sexual dysfunction in adulthood, but little has been known about how that happens. An international team of researchers, including the Miller School’s Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., Leonard M. Miller Professor and Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, has discovered a neural basis for this association. The study, published in the June 1 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, shows that sexually abused and emotionally mistreated children exhibit specific and differential changes in the architecture of their brain that reflect the nature of the mistreatment.
The results showed a correlation between specific forms of maltreatment and thinning of the cortex in precisely the regions of the brain that are involved in the perception or processing of the type of abuse. Specifically, the somatosensory cortex in the area in which the female genitals are represented was significantly thinner in women who were victims of sexual abuse in their childhood. Similarly, victims of emotional mistreatment were found to have a reduction of the thickness of the cerebral cortex in specific areas associated with self-awareness, self-evaluation and emotional regulation.
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