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Children with a history of maltreatment suffer from altered emotion processing but the neural basis of this phenomenon is unknown. This pioneering functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study investigated the effects of severe childhood maltreatment on emotion processing while controlling for psychiatric conditions, medication and substance abuse.
Twenty medication-naive, substance abuse-free adolescents with a history of childhood abuse, 20 psychiatric control adolescents matched on psychiatric diagnoses but with no maltreatment and 27 healthy controls underwent a fMRI emotion discrimination task comprising fearful, angry, sad happy and neutral dynamic facial expressions.
Maltreated participants responded faster to fearful expressions and demonstrated hyper-activation compared to healthy controls of classical fear-processing regions of ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and anterior cingulate cortex, which survived at a more lenient threshold relative to psychiatric controls. Functional connectivity analysis, furthermore, demonstrated reduced connectivity between left vmPFC and insula for fear in maltreated participants compared to both healthy and psychiatric controls.
The findings show that people who have experienced childhood maltreatment have enhanced fear perception, both at the behavioural and neurofunctional levels, associated with enhanced fear-related ventromedial fronto-cingulate activation and altered functional connectivity with associated limbic regions. Furthermore, the connectivity adaptations were specific to the maltreatment rather than to the developing psychiatric conditions, whilst the functional changes were only evident at trend level when compared to psychiatric controls, suggesting a continuum. The neurofunctional hypersensitivity of fear-processing networks may be due to childhood over-exposure to fear in people who have been abused.
Childhood abuse is associated with abnormalities in brain structure and function. Few studies have investigated abuse-related brain abnormalities in medication-naïve, drug-free youth that also controlled for psychiatric comorbidities by inclusion of a psychiatric control group, which is crucial to disentangle the effects of abuse from those associated with the psychiatric conditions.
Cortical volume (CV), cortical thickness (CT) and surface area (SA) were measured in 22 age- and gender-matched medication-naïve youth (aged 13–20) exposed to childhood abuse, 19 psychiatric controls matched for psychiatric diagnoses and 27 healthy controls. Both region-of-interest (ROI) and whole-brain analyses were conducted.
For the ROI analysis, the childhood abuse group compared with healthy controls only, had significantly reduced CV in bilateral cerebellum and reduced CT in left insula and right lateral orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). At the whole-brain level, relative to healthy controls, the childhood abuse group showed significantly reduced CV in left lingual, pericalcarine, precuneus and superior parietal gyri, and reduced CT in left pre-/postcentral and paracentral regions, which furthermore correlated with greater abuse severity. They also had increased CV in left inferior and middle temporal gyri relative to healthy controls. Abnormalities in the precuneus, temporal and precentral regions were abuse-specific relative to psychiatric controls, albeit at a more lenient level. Groups did not differ in SA.
Childhood abuse is associated with widespread structural abnormalities in OFC–insular, cerebellar, occipital, parietal and temporal regions, which likely underlie the abnormal affective, motivational and cognitive functions typically observed in this population.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be a persistent and disabling psychiatric disorder. There is little systematic research into the psychiatric consequences of road traffic accidents (RTAs) in children and adolescents.
A consecutive sample of 8–16-year-olds attending an accident and emergency department following RTAs were screened for PTSD. Potential cases and their parent(s) were interviewed with semi-structured research instruments about six weeks and six months after the accident.
Fifty-three (45%) of the 119 subjects fell above PTSD cut-off on the Frederick's Reaction Index. Thirty-three (75%) of the 44 cases met DSM–IV criteria for PTSD. In half of these other psychiatric disorders were present, including major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders. Being female, involvement in car accidents and pre-existing depression and anxiety were associated with developing PTSD. Seventeen per cent of the sample continued to be symptomatic six months after the accident.
PTSD is a common consequence of RTAs. Liaison with accident and emergency departments would enhance the early detection and follow-up of children at risk of developing PTSD.
Morbid jealousy is an incompletely understood syndrome. The association between morbid jealousy and alcoholism is unclear.
Morbid jealousy was assessed in 207 male patients with alcohol dependence (DSM–III–R) using a semi-structured interview schedule administered both to patients and their spouses.
Thirty-four per cent (71 out of 207) suffered from morbid jealousy. Morbid jealousy had different manifestations. Some patients expressed it only when intoxicated, others even when sober and in some the jealousy took the form of a delusional disorder.
Alcoholism appears to have an aetiological role in the development of morbid jealousy. Detecting morbid jealousy when it is expressed only under the influence of alcohol has preventive implications.