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Neurobiological Consequences of Child Maltreatment

Hill, S. N., & Belger, A.

From the abstract: "This chapter summarizes the current research on the neurobiological mechanisms that are impacted by child maltreatment through neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse. These adverse childhood experiences can be maladaptive for child neurodevelopment and increase the risks for later chronic, physical, and mental health conditions. Alternatively, adaptive brain modifications can include compensatory developmental processes as protective mechanism and thereby confer resilience to maltreatment-exposed youth. Either way, the neurobiological sequelae of child maltreatment can have enduring effects across the life course and also have implications for offspring through intergenerational transmission of epigenetic adaptations.

Three evolving areas of neurobiological research are discussed: (1) electrophysiological and hormonal stress dysregulation; (2) structural and functional brain changes; and (3) behavioral epigenetics. To begin, a primer on the brain structure and functions is provided, followed by a general overview of the stress response and recovery system. Next, select studies demonstrate how dysregulated stress reactivity is linked to poor health outcomes and caused by the changes in the brain. Lastly, epigenetic studies on child maltreatment are reviewed for DNA methylation patterns, accelerated biological aging, and telomere shortening, all of which are hypothesized to be involved in poor child development, disease programming, and premature morbidity and mortality as a result of dynamic gene–environment interactions. The chapter is concluded with proposed future research directions to further build the evidence basis for neurobiological consequences of child maltreatment."


Hill, S. N., & Belger, A. (2020). Neurobiological consequences of child maltreatment. In R. Geffer, J. White, L. Hamberger, A. Rosenbaum, V. Vaughan-Eden, & V. Vieth (Eds.), Handbook of interpersonal violence across the lifespan (pp. 1-18). Springer.




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