Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Child Sexual Abuse and Brain Structure

You may recall back in the mid-1990s a report that a scientist had found brain structural differences between gay men and straight men.  Briefly it was a big deal because "born that way."  There were many problems with it: based on a very small sample size; all the gay men died of AIDS; all the presumed straight men were much older.

So imagine my surprise at finding articles about child sexual abuse and brain structure changes.  Like this:

Alterations in gray matter development represent a potential pathway through which childhood abuse is associated with psychopathology. Several prior studies find reduced volume and thickness of prefrontal (PFC) and temporal cortex regions in abused compared with nonabused adolescents, although most prior research is based on adults and volume-based measures. This study tests the hypothesis that child abuse, independent of parental education, predicts reduced cortical thickness in prefrontal and temporal cortices as well as reduced gray mater volume (GMV) in subcortical regions during adolescence.
Structural MRI scans were obtained from 21 adolescents exposed to physical and/or sexual abuse and 37 nonabused adolescents (ages 13–20). Abuse was operationalized using dichotomous and continuous measures. We examined associations between abuse and brain structure in several a priori-defined regions, controlling for parental education, age, sex, race, and total brain volume for subcortical GMV. Significance was evaluated at < .05 with a false discovery rate correction.
Child abuse exposure and severity were associated with reduced thickness in ventromedial prefrontal cortex (PFC), right lateral orbitofrontal cortex, right inferior frontal gyrus, bilateral parahippocampal gyrus (PHG), left temporal pole, and bilateral inferior, right middle, and right superior temporal gyri. Neither abuse measure predicted cortical surface area or subcortical GMV. Bilateral PHG thickness was inversely related to externalizing symptoms.
Child abuse, an experience characterized by a high degree of threat, is associated with reduced cortical thickness in ventromedial and ventrolateral PFC and medial and lateral temporal cortex in adolescence. Reduced PHG thickness may be a mediator linking abuse with externalizing psychopathology, although prospective research is needed to evaluate this possibility.

Objective: Review literature focused on neurological associations in brain structure among individuals with a history of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). Methodology: A review of literature examining physiological irregularities in brain structures of individuals with a history of CSA was conducted. Results: Results revealed that a history of CSA was associated with irregularities in the cortical and subcortical regions of the brain. These irregularities have been recognized to contribute to various cognitive, behavioral, and psychological health outcomes later in life. Age of CSA onset was associated with differential neurological brain structures. Conclusion: Mental and behavioral health problems such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, dissociative disorders, and sexual dysfunction are associated with CSA and may persist into adulthood. Research depicting the associations of CSA on neurological outcomes emphasizes the need to examine the biological and subsequent psychological outcomes associated with CSA. Early intervention is imperative for CSA survivors. 

1 comment:

Windy Wilson said...

So, if these brain structures develop soon after the abuse we could detect sexual abuse in childhood with a brainscan? I wonder what effect tbis would have had on the McMartin trial, and accusations of child abuse in divorce cases?
Those may be questions it is too soon to ask (what, no emoticons?).