2016 Volume 57 Issue 5 Pages 719-729
Recent research is clarifying how childhood maltreatment, which markedly increases the risk for psychopathology, is associated with structural and functional differences in the brain. For example, childhood exposure to parental verbal abuse (PVA) can cause increase in gray matter volume in the auditory cortex, witnessing of interparental violence to decrease in gray matter volume within the visual cortex, in addition to association with negative outcomes such as depression, PTSD, and reduced cognitive abilities. Association between other forms of childhood abuse and brain structure and/or developmental alteration is also becoming clear. Brain regions that process and convey adverse sensory input from maltreatment appear subject to modification from such experiences, particularly upon exposure to a single type of maltreatment, while exposure to multiple types of maltreatment is more commonly associated with morphological alterations in the corticolimbic regions. Furthermore, studies on maltreated children and adolescents with reactive attachment disorder (RAD) have revealed marked reduction in striatal neural reward activity, suggesting the dopaminergic dysfunction occurring in the striatum of such subjects may be further indication of the close neurobiological association between childhood maltreatment and future risk of problems such as substance abuse.