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Childhood trauma and adversity are common across societies and have strong associations with physical and psychiatric morbidity throughout the life-course. One possible mechanism through which childhood trauma may predispose individuals to poor psychiatric outcomes is via associations with brain structure. This study aimed to elucidate the associations between childhood trauma and brain structure across two large, independent community cohorts.
The two samples comprised (i) a subsample of Generation Scotland (n=1,024); and (ii) individuals from UK Biobank (n=27,202). This comprised n=28,226 for mega-analysis. MRI scans were processed using Free Surfer, providing cortical, subcortical, and global brain metrics. Regression models were used to determine associations between childhood trauma measures and brain metrics and psychiatric phenotypes.
Childhood trauma associated with lifetime depression across cohorts (OR 1.06 GS, 1.23 UKB), and related to early onset and recurrent course within both samples. There was evidence for associations between childhood trauma and structural brain metrics. This included reduced global brain volume, and reduced cortical surface area with highest effects in the frontal (β=−0.0385, SE=0.0048, p(FDR)=5.43x10−15) and parietal lobes (β=−0.0387, SE=0.005, p(FDR)=1.56x10−14). At a regional level the ventral diencephalon (VDc) displayed significant associations with childhood trauma measures across both cohorts and at mega-analysis (β=−0.0232, SE=0.0039, p(FDR)=2.91x10−8). There were also associations with reduced hippocampus, thalamus, and nucleus accumbens volumes.
Associations between childhood trauma and reduced global and regional brain volumes were found, across two independent UK cohorts, and at mega-analysis. This provides robust evidence for a lasting effect of childhood adversity on brain structure.
Major depressive disorder (MDD) was previously associated with negative affective biases. Evidence from larger population-based studies, however, is lacking, including whether biases normalise with remission. We investigated associations between affective bias measures and depressive symptom severity across a large community-based sample, followed by examining differences between remitted individuals and controls.
Participants from Generation Scotland (N = 1109) completed the: (i) Bristol Emotion Recognition Task (BERT), (ii) Face Affective Go/No-go (FAGN), and (iii) Cambridge Gambling Task (CGT). Individuals were classified as MDD-current (n = 43), MDD-remitted (n = 282), or controls (n = 784). Analyses included using affective bias summary measures (primary analyses), followed by detailed emotion/condition analyses of BERT and FAGN (secondary analyses).
For summary measures, the only significant finding was an association between greater symptoms and lower risk adjustment for CGT across the sample (individuals with greater symptoms were less likely to bet more, despite increasingly favourable conditions). This was no longer significant when controlling for non-affective cognition. No differences were found for remitted-MDD v. controls. Detailed analysis of BERT and FAGN indicated subtle negative biases across multiple measures of affective cognition with increasing symptom severity, that were independent of non-effective cognition [e.g. greater tendency to rate faces as angry (BERT), and lower accuracy for happy/neutral conditions (FAGN)]. Results for remitted-MDD were inconsistent.
This suggests the presence of subtle negative affective biases at the level of emotion/condition in association with depressive symptoms across the sample, over and above those accounted for by non-affective cognition, with no evidence for affective biases in remitted individuals.
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a polygenic disorder associated with brain alterations but until recently, there have been no brain-based metrics to quantify individual-level variation in brain morphology. Here, we evaluated and compared the performance of a new brain-based ‘Regional Vulnerability Index’ (RVI) with polygenic risk scores (PRS), in the context of MDD. We assessed associations with syndromal MDD in an adult sample (N = 702, age = 59 ± 10) and with subclinical depressive symptoms in a longitudinal adolescent sample (baseline N = 3,825, age = 10 ± 1; 2-year follow-up N = 2,081, age = 12 ± 1).
MDD-RVIs quantify the correlation of the individual’s corresponding brain metric with the expected pattern for MDD derived in an independent sample. Using the same methodology across samples, subject-specific MDD-PRS and six MDD-RVIs based on different brain modalities (subcortical volume, cortical thickness, cortical surface area, mean diffusivity, fractional anisotropy, and multimodal) were computed.
In adults, MDD-RVIs (based on white matter and multimodal measures) were more strongly associated with MDD (β = 0.099–0.281, PFDR = 0.001–0.043) than MDD-PRS (β = 0.056–0.152, PFDR = 0.140–0.140). In adolescents, depressive symptoms were associated with MDD-PRS at baseline and follow-up (β = 0.084–0.086, p = 1.38 × 10−4−4.77 × 10−4) but not with any MDD-RVIs (β < 0.05, p > 0.05).
Our results potentially indicate the ability of brain-based risk scores to capture a broader range of risk exposures than genetic risk scores in adults and are also useful in helping us to understand the temporal origins of depression-related brain features. Longitudinal data, specific to the developmental period and on white matter measures, will be useful in informing risk for subsequent psychiatric illness.
Lockdown during the pandemic has had significant impacts on public mental health. Previous studies suggest an increase in self-harm and suicide in children and adolescents. There has been little research on the roles of stringent lockdown.
To investigate the mediating and predictive roles of lockdown policy stringency measures in self-harm and emergency psychiatric presentations.
This was a retrospective cohort study. We analysed data of 2073 psychiatric emergency presentations of children and adolescents from 23 hospital catchment areas in ten countries, in March to April 2019 and 2020.
Lockdown measure stringency mediated the reduction in psychiatric emergency presentations (incidence rate ratio of the natural indirect effect [IRRNIE] = 0.41, 95% CI [0.35, 0.48]) and self-harm presentations (IRRNIE = 0.49, 95% CI [0.39, 0.60]) in 2020 compared with 2019. Self-harm presentations among male and looked after children were likely to increase in parallel with lockdown stringency. Self-harm presentations precipitated by social isolation increased with stringency, whereas school pressure and rows with a friend became less likely precipitants. Children from more deprived neighbourhoods were less likely to present to emergency departments when lockdown became more stringent,
Lockdown may produce differential effects among children and adolescents who self-harm. Development in community or remote mental health services is crucial to offset potential barriers to access to emergency psychiatric care, especially for the most deprived youths. Governments should aim to reduce unnecessary fear of help-seeking and keep lockdown as short as possible. Underlying mediation mechanisms of stringent measures and potential psychosocial inequalities warrant further research.
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