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Childhood Abuse Permanetly Shrinks the Brain

Update Date: Jun 19, 2014 03:09 AM EDT

Childhood abuse or neglect can permanently shrink the brain, according to a new study.

After analyzing the link between childhood maltreatment and the volume of cerebral grey matter, researchers found that adults who've suffered child abuse were significantly more likely to develop cerebral grey matter abnormalities. Researchers said this is important as grey matter is responsible for processing information.

"Childhood maltreatment acts as a severe stressor that produces a cascade of physiological and neurobiological changes that lead to enduring alterations in the brain structure," researcher Joaquim Radua from the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology and the British center, said in a news release.

The latest study involved of 331 individuals with a history of childhood maltreatment, as well as 362 in the control group who never experienced childhood maltreatment.

Researchers then analyzed grey matter volumes using a three-dimensional meta-analytical neuroimaging method called 'signed differential mapping' (SDM).

The finings revealed that people exposed to childhood maltreatment had significantly smaller grey matter volumes in the right right orbitofrontal/superior temporal gyrus extending to the amygdala, insula, and parahippocampal and middle temporal gyri and in the left inferior frontal and postcentral gyri.

"Deficits in the right orbitofrontal-temporal-limbic and left inferior frontal regions remained in a subgroup analysis of unmedicated participants, indicating that these abnormalities were not related to medication but to maltreatment," said Radua.

Researchers said the latest findings could explain the why people with a history of child abuse are more likely to possess affective and cognitive deficits.

"These findings show the serious consequences of adverse childhood environments on brain development," said Radua.

"We hope the results of this study will help to reduce environmental risks during childhood and to develop treatments to stabilize these morphologic alterations," he concluded.

The findings were published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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