Childhood Maltreatment Disrupts Brain-Mediated Pathways Between Adolescent Maternal Relationship Quality and Positive Adult Outcomes

Lauren A. Demers, Elizabeth D. Handley, Ruskin H. Hunt, Fred A. Rogosch, Sheree L. Toth, Kathleen M. Thomas, Dante Cicchetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The quality of early caregiving may partially shape brain structure and circuits involved in regulating emotions, including the frontal cortex, affecting vulnerability to the development of psychopathology and maladaptation. Given the profound impact of child maltreatment (CM) on psychological and neural development, we tested whether CM alters the pathways linking mother–adolescent relationship, frontal cortex, and adult outcomes. We used structural equation modeling to investigate whether CM history affected the association between mother–child relationship quality during early adolescence, frontal lobe volume in adulthood, and adult internalizing and externalizing symptomatology and competence. Participants from a longitudinal high-risk, low-income sample included 48 adults with a history of CM and 40 adults without such history (M = 30.0 years). Results showed that greater frontal lobe volume predicted higher levels of adult adaptive functioning and fewer adult internalizing symptoms but showed no relation to adult externalizing symptoms. Frontal lobe volume significantly mediated the effect of adolescent maternal relationship quality on both adult internalizing symptoms and adult adaptive functioning, but only for individuals with no maltreatment history. Given the observed relationship between frontal lobe volume and healthy adult functioning across the full sample, it will be important to identify protective factors in maltreated individuals that foster frontal lobe development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)424-434
Number of pages11
JournalChild Maltreatment
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the staff at the Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester, and the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota. We thank the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute at the University of Minnesota for providing resources that contributed to the research results reported within this article ( We also thank Emily Hunt and Pat Weber for their work in data collection and the families and longitudinal participants of the Mount Hope Family Center for their participation. The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by a McKnight Presidential Chair, William Harris Endowed Chair, and a Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize (to DC), imaging support from the Rochester Center for Brain Imaging, and a pilot grant from the College of Arts, Science and Engineering, University of Rochester. Trainee support was provided by the University of Minnesota's Institute of Child Development via a National Institute of Mental Health National Research Service Award Grant no. 2T32MH015755-39 (to LAD).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.


  • childhood maltreatment
  • parent–child relationships
  • psychopathology
  • structural equation modeling

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