Hypoactive medial prefrontal cortex functioning in adults reporting childhood emotional maltreatment

A.L. van Harmelen, M.J. van Tol, T. Dalgleish, N.J.A. van der Wee, D.J. Veltman, A. Aleman, P. Spinhoven, B.W.J.H. Penninx, B.M. Elzinga

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Childhood emotional maltreatment (CEM) has adverse effects on medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) morphology, a structure that is crucial for cognitive functioning and (emotional) memory and which modulates the limbic system. In addition, CEM has been linked to amygdala hyperactivity during emotional face processing. However, no study has yet investigated the functional neural correlates of neutral and emotional memory in adults reporting CEM. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we investigated CEM-related differential activations in mPFC during the encoding and recognition of positive, negative and neutral words. The sample (N = 194) consisted of patients with depression and/or anxiety disorders and healthy controls (HC) reporting CEM (n = 96) and patients and HC reporting no abuse (n = 98). We found a consistent pattern of mPFC hypoactivation during encoding and recognition of positive, negative and neutral words in individuals reporting CEM. These results were not explained by psychopathology or severity of depression or anxiety symptoms, or by gender, level of neuroticism, parental psychopathology, negative life events, antidepressant use or decreased mPFC volume in the CEM group. These findings indicate mPFC hypoactivity in individuals reporting CEM during emotional and neutral memory encoding and recognition. Our findings suggest that CEM may increase individuals' risk to the development of psychopathology on differential levels of processing in the brain; blunted mPFC activation during higher order processing and enhanced amygdala activation during automatic/lower order emotion processing. These findings are vital in understanding the long-term consequences of CEM.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2026-2033
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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