Child Abuse Can Impair Brain Wiring

Researchers based at Douglas Mental Health University Institute and McGill University’s Department of Psychiatry reported that children who suffer from traumatic experiences in their childhood such as severe abuse, show notable abnormalities in the structure and functioning of the cells in a specific area of brain called anterior cingulate cortex which is associated with emotion and mood regulation. Researchers believe that due to this early life suffering and changes in the brain contribute to depressive disorders and suicidal behaviors. This research was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.


In the western world, 5-15% of all the children under the age of 15 suffer from severe physical or sexual child abuse which increases the risk of psychiatric disorders, aggressivity, anxiety, impulsivity, frequent substance abuse and suicide ideation. The axon part of the neurons is covered by a fatty coating called myelin sheath which builds up mainly during childhood and matures till early adulthood. Myelin sheath protects the axon and is responsible for conducting electrical signals in the brain. Crucial insulation for nerve fibres builds up during first two decades of life.

The researchers compared postmortem brain samples of 3 different groups of adults: 1. Had a history of severe child abuse, suffered from depression and committed suicide. 2. No history of child abuse but suffered from depression and committed suicide. 3. Who neither had any psychiatric disorder nor a history of child abuse. The researchers finally discovered and concluded that the thickness of the myelin coating was reduced significantly in the brain of those who suffered from severe child abuse. The researchers are planning to further explore, where in the brain, and how, at a molecular level these effects will have an impact on the regulation of emotions and mood.

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