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Childhood trauma leaves its mark on the brain

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Childhood trauma leaves its mark on the brain

Postby ms spock » Thu Jan 30, 2014 4:16 am

Childhood trauma leaves its mark on the brain
Date: January 15, 2013
Source: Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Summary: Scientists have found evidence that psychological wounds inflicted when young leave lasting biological traces -- and a predisposition toward violence later in life.


Peripuberty stressed rats show increased activation in the amygdala (involved in emotional processing) and blunted activation in the orbitofrontal cortex (involved in social decision-making).
Credit: EPFL


It is well known that violent adults often have a history of childhood psychological trauma. Some of these individuals exhibit very real, physical alterations in a part of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex. Yet a direct link between such early trauma and neurological changes has been difficult to find, until now.

Publishing in the January 15 edition of Translational Psychiatry, EPFL Professor Carmen Sandi and team demonstrate for the first time a correlation between psychological trauma in pre-adolescent rats and neurological changes similar to those found in violent humans.

"This research shows that people exposed to trauma in childhood don't only suffer psychologically, but their brain also gets altered," explains Sandi, Head of EPFL's Laboratory of Behavioral Genetics, Director of the Brain Mind Institute, and a member of the National Centers for Competence in Research SYNAPSY. "This adds an additional dimension to the consequences of abuse, and obviously has scientific, therapeutic and social implications."

The researchers were able to unravel the biological foundations of violence using a cohort of male rats exposed to psychologically stressful situations when young. After observing that these experiences led to aggressive behavior when the rats reached adulthood, they examined what was happening in the animals' brains to see if the traumatic period had left a lasting mark.

"In a challenging social situation, the orbitofrontal cortex of a healthy individual is activated in order to inhibit aggressive impulses and to maintain normal interactions," explains Sandi. "But in the rats we studied, we noticed that there was very little activation of the orbitofrontal cortex. This, in turn, reduces their ability to moderate their negative impulses. This reduced activation is accompanied by the overactivation of the amygdala, a region of the brain that's involved in emotional reactions." Other researchers who have studied the brains of violent human individuals have observed the same deficit in orbitofrontal activation and the same corresponding reduced inhibition of aggressive impulses. "It's remarkable; we didn't expect to find this level of similarity," says Sandi.

The scientists also measured changes in the expression of certain genes in the brain. They focused on genes known to be involved in aggressive behavior for which there are polymorphisms (genetic variants) that predispose carriers to an aggressive attitude, and they looked at whether the psychological stress experienced by the rats caused a modification in the expression of these genes. "We found that the level of MAOA gene expression increased in the prefrontal cortex," says Sandi. This alteration was linked to an epigenetic change; in other words, the traumatic experience ended up causing a long-term modification of this gene's expression.

Finally, the researchers tested the efficacy of an MAOA gene inhibitor, in this case an anti-depressant, to see if it could reverse the rise in aggression induced by juvenile stress, which it did. Going forward, the team will explore treatments for reversing physical changes in the brain, and above all, attempt to shed light on whether some people are more vulnerable to being effected by trauma based on their genetic makeup.

"This research could also reveal the possible ability of antidepressants -- an ability that's increasingly being suspected -- to renew cerebral plasticity," says Sandi.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

C Márquez, G L Poirier, M I Cordero, M H Larsen, A Groner, J Marquis, P J Magistretti, D Trono, C Sandi. Peripuberty stress leads to abnormal aggression, altered amygdala and orbitofrontal reactivity and increased prefrontal MAOA gene expression. Translational Psychiatry, 2013; 3 (1): e216 DOI: 10.1038/tp.2012.144

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Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. "Childhood trauma leaves its mark on the brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 January 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130115090215.htm>.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 090215.htm
Last edited by ms spock on Thu Jan 30, 2014 4:26 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Childhood trauma leaves its mark on the brain

Postby ms spock » Thu Jan 30, 2014 4:17 am

Fascinating stuff.
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Re: Childhood trauma leaves its mark on the brain

Postby Milieu intérieur » Thu Jan 30, 2014 8:52 am

>The researchers were able to unravel the biological foundations of violence using a cohort of male rats exposed to psychologically stressful situations when young."

Are there acts of aggression involved in ".. exposed [/ing of] to psychologically stressful situations when young.."?

Anyway it fits with the brains switching to a different mode with lasting changes, evolutionary theories regards that, though that the switch can be adaptive in certain environments isn't mentioned.

The article as written does tend to stereotype "aggression" and "negative" emotions etc.
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Re: Childhood trauma leaves its mark on the brain

Postby justjj » Thu Jan 30, 2014 9:43 am

It IS fascinating, and extends on work with children from abusive situations.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) some of that info cannot be further "tested" for ethical reasons.

Researchers have the biological markers well-established for "fear" etc ... hormones and other such, so they can not only "see" in the child's reactions that somethings trigger fear, but they can now confirm it with all kinds of other tools; blood tests, imaging of the brain in real time, etc.

this work was beginning to be published in its infancy while I was still working.

Unfortunately too, mi is right, sometimes a person who is not the least aggressive, all and only nurturing but with a deep or louder voice than most, can quite unknowingly trigger fear responses from children whose abuser had a deep and loud voice.

Bits of this are well established; knowing how to deal with it or what to do next that is actually helpful to those children is the next and tough part.

Whatever the "authorities" do will be wrong, that much will be right.
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Re: Childhood trauma leaves its mark on the brain

Postby Helix » Thu Jan 30, 2014 11:03 am

You can read the paper in full and for free here.
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