Stress and trauma during the adolescence may result in long-term health consequences, such as psychiatric disorders. A new study inBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging has used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the effects of acute stress and polyvicitimization, or repeated traumas, on three brain networks in adolescents.
While negative health outcomes have been associatedseparately with early life victimization exposure, disrupted adolescent neurodevelopment, and aberrant neural network responses to acute stress, no previous research had examined how these factors are related to each other, according to Rachel Corr, PhD, at Chapel Hill, NC, USA, and the principal author of the study. This study aimed to assemble these pieces of the puzzle.
Dr. Corr and colleagues wanted to be able to explore how acute stress affects functional connectivity of thebrains triple networks, referring to the default mode network, the salience network, and the central executive network. Together, the three networks are crucial for controlling cognition, emotion, perception, and social interaction. Aberrant activity in and between the triple networks has long been associated with psychiatric problems.
Participants completed a task while undergoing fMRI scan to assess the effects of acute stress on brain connectivity. Despite the stress situation, participants had to do the math problems quickly during an allotted time and were given negative feedback about their performance throughout the testing.
Participants showed altered functional connectivity between the three brain networks durant the acute stress condition. Specifically, the researchers observed an increase of FC between the default mode and central executive networks, and an increase of FC between the salience network and the other two networks. The authors believe that the insula, a brain region that is associated with upward attention, might help them in any manner.
Researchers could further investigate the neural network stress response resulting from polyvictimization, in which adolescents may experience multiple forms of victimization, including by parents, peers, and others. Together, the findings suggest that the brain may have adapted to repeated traumas, thus making it less able to react to stressful situations.
Cameron Carter, MD, Editor ofBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, said of the work. This research demonstrates how repeated trauma may lead to a maladaptive response to acute stress in important functional brain networks, and reveals a potential mechanism by whichmultiple early life stressors may lead to increased neural vulnerability to stress and the associated liability to future mental health problems.