Experiencing trauma in childhood is associated with changes in the brain during teenage years, according to a study of 117 adolescents using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The researchers compared MRI’s from age 12 with MRI’s from age 16. They asked the teenagers about childhood trauma and also did psychiatric diagnostic interviews. There were significant differences in how the brains of teenagers with trauma exposure grew who had a history of trauma, particularly in two areas that are involved in memory, fear, and stress regulation in the brain – the hippocampus and amygdala.
“Childhood maltreatment was associated with larger baseline left hippocampal volumes and retarded growth of the left amygdala over time and was indirectly associated, through the experience of psychopathology, with retarded growth of the left hippocampus and accelerated growth of the left amygdala over time,” compared with participants who were not maltreated, wrote Nicholas Allen, PhD, of the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences at Australia’s University of Melbourne, in the September Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
These findings are compatible with a number of articles reporting that childhood trauma affects hippocampus and amygdala in teenagers and adults. For example this article on adults with a first episode of psychosis finds that the presence or absence of a history of childhood trauma was significantly associated with altered hippocampus volumes on MRI.