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Brain structures and functional connectivity in neglected children with no other types of maltreatment.

NeuroImage 2024 April 3
Child maltreatment can adversely affect brain development, leading to vulnerabilities in brain structure and function and various psychiatric disorders. Among the various types of child maltreatment, neglect has the highest incidence rate (76.0%); however, data on its sole adverse influence on the brain remain limited. This case-control brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study identified the changes in gray matter structure and function that distinguish neglected children with no other type of maltreatment (Neglect group, n = 23) from typically developing children (TD group, n = 140), and investigated the association between these structural and functional differences and specific psychosocial phenotypes observed in neglected children. Our results showed that the Neglect group had a larger right and left anterior cingulate cortex (R/L.ACC) and smaller left angular gyrus (L.AG) gray matter volume. The larger R/L.ACC was associated with hyperactivity and inattention. Resting-state functional analysis showed increased functional connectivity (FC) between the left supramarginal gyrus (L.SMG) in the salience network (SN) and the right middle frontal gyrus (R.MFG) simultaneously with a decrease in FC with the L.ACC for the same seed. The increased FC for the R.MFG was associated with difficulty in peer problems and depressive symptoms; a mediating effect was evident for depressive symptoms. These results suggest that the structural atypicality of the R/L.ACC indirectly contributes to the disturbed FCs within the SN, thereby exacerbating depressive symptoms in neglected children. In conclusion, exposure to neglect in childhood may lead to maladaptive brain development, particularly neural changes associated with depressive symptoms.

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