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Poverty Linked To Brain Changes In Children, Study

Update Date: Jan 17, 2016 01:06 PM EST

Poverty has impacted the brains of many children negatively. Scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine find that it can also alter brain connectivity. After scanning the brains of 105 children between 2 and 7 years, they found that poor children tend have altered connections between the hippocampus that is responsible for memory, learning and stress mediation, along with the amygdala, which is involved in processing stress, emotion as well as other regions of the brain.

Scientists viewed the data with the help of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans and discovered that higher levels of poverty tend to weaken the links between the hippocampus, amygdala and the rest of the brain. Preschool children who are poorer tend to express more symptoms of clinical depression when they are old enough to attend school.

"Our past research has shown that the brain's anatomy can look different in poor children, with the size of the hippocampus and amygdala frequently altered in kids raised in poverty," Deanna Barch, first author of the study, said in a press release. "In this study, we found that the way those structures connect with the rest of the brain changes in ways we would consider to be less helpful in regulating emotion and stress."

Even as the previous research looked at differences in the volume of gray and white matter in the brain, while the size and volume of the hippocampus and amygdala were examined in poorer children, scientists found that such alterations can be rectified through parents who are nurturing, although changes in the connectivity in the current study could not fix them.

"Poverty is one of the most powerful predictors of poor developmental outcomes for children," said co-investigator Joan Luby. "Previously, we've seen that there may be ways to overcome some brain changes linked to poverty, but we didn't see anything that reversed the negative changes in connectivity present in poor kids."

The findings were published in the Nov.20,2015 issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry.

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