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The impact of maternal exposure to childhood adversities on infant brain development


A large literature has documented the deleterious effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on development in children and adolescents, with long-term consequences, which often persist in adulthood, including mood disorders, substance abuse, and anxiety disorders. In 2016, according to the office of the Administration for Children & Families, a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the number and rate of victims of child maltreatment fluctuated during the past 5 years. Comparing the national rounded number of victims from 2012 (656,000) to the national estimate of victims in 2016 (676,000) shows an increase of 3.0 percent. In Latin America, the prevalence of ACEs among children is a significant public health concern. Regional statistics report that approximately 6 million Latin American children suffer some type of abuse and around 80,000 die every year because of abuse and neglect in the region (UNICEF, 2014).Emerging evidence suggests the deleterious effect of ACEs may not be restricted to only the lifespan of abused women, but also may be transmitted to their children - who have been shown to exhibit alterations in stress systems, behavioral disorders such as conduct problems, internalizing and externalizing behavioral problems, among other health problems such as obesity cardiovascular, and metabolic diseases. A potential mechanism for the intergenerational transmission of maternal ACEs to the fetus is the mother-fetus communication through the placenta, which influences fetal brain development. There has been a few studies evaluating the intergenerational effects of child maltreatment of mothers on infant brain development; however, the studies are limited to high-income countries. Here, we propose a unique collaboration opportunity between the United States (Columbia University) and Brazil (UNIFESP) to explore the influence of maternal childhood trauma on infant brain development. A pilot study was conducted in Brazil (at Universidade Federal de São Paulo - UNIFESP) in partnership with United States (Columbia University). Pregnant women (mean age: 24.4 y/o, +/- 6.5 y/o) were recruited during the third trimester of pregnancy and completed a comprehensive psychiatric assessment including the Brazilian validated version of the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ). We enrolled 20 pregnant women who experienced childhood trauma (physical, emotional, or sexual trauma as indexed by the CTQ) as well as 20 healthy controls with no history of childhood trauma, matched by age. From this sample of 40 pregnant women, we obtained the structural and resting-state fMRI scans of 20 infants with maternal trauma exposure and 20 infants without maternal trauma exposure in a 3T Phillips Achieva scanner. Preliminary results from the pilot study show strong associations between maternal childhood trauma and decreased functional connectivity within impulsivity-related neural circuits in 2-4 week-old infants. Understanding how maternal trauma alters infant brain development may help identify steps to curtail the adverse intergenerational effects of trauma. (AU)

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