Separable Effects of Childhood Maltreatment and Adult Adaptive Functioning on Amygdala Connectivity During Emotion Processing

Lauren A. Demers, Kelly Jedd McKenzie, Ruskin H. Hunt, Dante Cicchetti, Raquel A. Cowell, Fred A. Rogosch, Sheree L. Toth, Kathleen M. Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Background: Individuals with a history of maltreatment show altered amygdala reactivity to emotional stimuli, atypical frontal regulatory control, and differences in frontolimbic connectivity compared with nonmaltreated controls. However, despite early trauma, many individuals who experience maltreatment show resilience or adaptive functioning in adulthood including positive social, educational, and occupational outcomes. Methods: The present study used a psychophysiological interaction model to examine the effect of adult adaptive functioning on group differences between maltreated and nonmaltreated adults in task-based amygdala functional connectivity. The task used was a facial emotion-matching paradigm. Functional magnetic resonance imaging scans were collected from 41 adults with a history of substantiated childhood maltreatment and 39 nonmaltreated adults who were well matched on demographic variables, all of whom had been studied since childhood. Adaptive functioning was measured with a composite score of success on stage-salient developmental tasks. Results: Consistent with previous research, we found differences in task-related amygdala functional connectivity between the maltreated and nonmaltreated groups. Effects were seen in the left hippocampus, right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, and right thalamus. However, when adult functioning was included in the model, maltreatment-related differences in amygdala connectivity were observed only in the hippocampus. Adult adaptive functioning independently predicted task-related amygdala connectivity in frontal and parietal regions across the entire sample. Conclusions: These results suggest that frontolimbic functional connectivity is predicted by positive developmental adaptation in this high-risk population, regardless of maltreatment history, whereas intralimbic connectivity (amygdala and hippocampus) is more specifically associated with maltreatment history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)116-124
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
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. T32-MH015755 (to LAD, KJM), and the Doris Duke Fellowship for the Promotion of Child Well-Being (to KJM).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Society of Biological Psychiatry


  • Adaptive functioning
  • Amygdala
  • Childhood adversity
  • Frontolimbic connectivity
  • Maltreatment
  • Neuroimaging


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