Nebraska study shows brain structure is altered by childhood physical abuse | Nebraska today

According to a new study by scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, long after bruises have disappeared and broken bones have healed, the effects of childhood physical abuse linger in the brain.

At the 2022 Association for Psychological Science convention May 26-29 in Chicago, Om Joshi, an instructor and graduate student affiliated with the Brain, Emotion and Education Laboratory of A, presented the first results of a study that used magnetic resonance imaging to examine the brains of 49 college students. Neuroscientist Hideo Suzuki, an assistant professor of developmental and learning sciences in the university’s department of educational psychology, is the lead researcher on the study, which was among those highlighted by APS at a press conference on May 27.

After undergoing the MRI scan, students completed a demographic assessment and the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire, which asked about a history of physical abuse. The MRI the scans showed structural differences in the brains of students who experienced physical child abuse. Several white matter pathways, bundles of long, thin projections of nerve cells that connect separate regions of the brain, showed decreased cohesion in these students.

The study showed reduced cohesion of white matter pathways connecting areas of the brain related to behavioral and emotional controls, memory processing, and a relay of sensory and motor signals. Some of the alterations are similar to those found in previous studies showing how verbal abuse and traumatic events affect white matter structure, but others were unique to the effects of physical abuse.

“Our results indicate that even among college students without apparent trauma-related disorders, experiencing physical abuse in childhood can negatively affect emotional regulation functions in the brain,” Suzuki said. “Increased levels of physical abuse are associated with greater difficulty accessing areas of the brain that regulate emotions.”

“Even if teachers or parents do not see problematic behaviors in their children at this time, our data indicate that experiencing physical abuse can alter the brain’s white matter microstructures over the long term and may influence how these children behave later in adulthood.”

This is the first time that the results of the unpublished study have been made public.

“White matter pathways are like highways in the human brain,” Joshi said. “I am particularly interested in studying the impact of negative adolescent experiences on the white matter of the brain. Indeed, the present study provided initial evidence on physical abuse and disturbances in brain pathways. However, we have much to explore and find the foundations of adolescent development under adversity.

Suzuki’s research in BEE Lab uses a neurobiological approach to examine the relationship between stress and emotional behavior. His research group is also studying the effects of peer bullying and victimization and whether they lead to neurobiological changes associated with aggression and depression.

Ida M. Morgan