Abuse, neglect, and gray matter

Emotional abuse and physical neglect lead to less gray matter in adolescent brains, according to a School of Medicine study published in December in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

The brain areas affected may differ in boys and girls, may depend on whether the youngsters were exposed to abuse or neglect, and may be linked to whether the neglect was physical or emotional. The study of 42 adolescents showed reduction in gray matter in youths who reported abuse or neglect, even though the youths had not been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder.

“This could help to explain their trouble with school performance, or increase their vulnerability to depression and behavioral difficulties,” said senior author Hilary P. Blumberg, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry and of diagnostic radiology and in the Child Study Center. More research is needed in order to develop improved interventions to help the youths who have been exposed, Blumberg said.

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Hilary Blumberg

John and Hope Furth Professor of Psychiatric Neuroscience and Professor of Psychiatry, and in the Child Study Center and of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging