Deprivation and Threat: Dimensions of Early Experience and Neural Development

This project examines the impact of child trauma and deprivation on the development of neural networks involved in emotion regulation and cognitive control in a unique, well characterized NIH-funded longitudinal cohort of children where exposure to environmental adversity has been precisely quantified. Our conceptual model is based on extensive preliminary data suggesting that different types of environmental experience have distinct effects on neural development by examining the influence of trauma and deprivation on neural structure, including cortical thickness and white matter microstructure, and neural function in Negative Valence Systems (function and connectivity in amygdala-ventromedial PFC network during fear conditioning and extinction) and Cognitive Control Systems (function and connectivity in fronto-parietal networks during cognitive control tasks). We are testing this proposed conceptual model by acquiring structural and functional MRI data on an existing sample of 300 children (1/3 in poverty, 1/3 near poverty, and 1/3 middle class) followed since early childhood with significant variability in CA exposure.  Elucidating these mechanisms will not only build knowledge of how adverse environments alter neural development in ways that might increase risk for psychopathology, but will also suggest possible targets for preventive interventions aimed at reducing psychopathology risk in children exposed to environmental adversity.