Hippocampal Contribution to Context Encoding across Development Is Disrupted following Early-Life Adversity

Citation:

Lambert, H. K., Sheridan, M. A., Sambrook, K. A., Rosen, M. L., Askren, M. K., & McLaughlin, K. A. (2017). Hippocampal Contribution to Context Encoding across Development Is Disrupted following Early-Life Adversity. The Journal of Neuroscience: The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience , 37 (7), 1925โ€“1934.
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Abstract:

Context can drastically influence responses to environmental stimuli. For example, a gunshot should provoke a different response at a public park than a shooting range. Little is known about how contextual processing and neural correlates change across human development or about individual differences related to early environmental experiences. Children (N = 60; 8-19 years, 24 exposed to interpersonal violence) completed a context encoding task during fMRI scanning using a delayed match-to-sample design with neutral, happy, and angry facial cues embedded in realistic background scenes. Outside the scanner, participants completed a memory test for context-face pairings. Context memory and neural correlates of context encoding did not vary with age. Larger hippocampal volume was associated with better context memory. Posterior hippocampus was recruited during context encoding, and greater activation in this region predicted better memory for contexts paired with angry faces. Children exposed to violence had poor memory of contexts paired with angry faces, reduced hippocampal volume, and atypical neural recruitment on encoding trials with angry faces, including reduced hippocampal activation and greater functional connectivity between hippocampus and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC). Greater hippocampus-vlPFC connectivity was associated with worse memory for contexts paired with angry faces. Posterior hippocampus appears to support context encoding, a process that does not exhibit age-related variation from middle childhood to late adolescence. Exposure to dangerous environments in childhood is associated with poor context encoding in the presence of threat, likely due to greater vlPFC-dependent attentional narrowing on threat cues at the expense of hippocampus-dependent processing of the broader context.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The ability to use context to guide reactions to environmental stimuli promotes flexible behavior. Remarkably little research has examined how contextual processing changes across development or about influences of the early environment. We provide evidence for posterior hippocampus involvement in context encoding in youth and lack of age-related variation from middle childhood to late adolescence. Children exposed to interpersonal violence exhibited poor memory of contexts paired with angry faces and atypical neural recruitment during context encoding in the presence of threatening facial cues. Heightened attention to threat following violence exposure may come at the expense of encoding contextual information, which may ultimately contribute to pathological fear expressed in safe contexts.

Last updated on 09/12/2018