The impact of child abuse on the neurobiology of self-processing in depressed adolescents

Maggie Engstrom, Guanmin Liu, Carmen Santana-Gonzalez, Jia Yuan Teoh, Madeline Harms, Kiry Koy, Karina Quevedo

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2 Scopus citations


Child abuse is linked to lifetime psychopathology including abnormal self-processing. Given self-processing maturation in adolescence, we tested duration, presence, and abuse accumulation's impact upon self-processing neurobiology among depressed youth with (N = 54) and without an abuse history (N = 40). Youth evaluated positive and negative self-descriptors across four points of view in the scanner. Regression analyses showed that longer abuse duration (in days) was associated with lower activity in inferior temporal (e.g. insula, fusiform & parahippocampus), striatal, cerebellar and midbrain structures when processing negative self-descriptors with the least activity in youth exposed to 6+ abuse years. Abuse presence vs. absence was linked to higher neural activity. However, youth exposed to a single abuse instance to 3 years of abuse might drive that relative neural hyperactivity. Results support: 1) the toxic stress model of blunted overall neuro-reactivity underpinning emotion, sensorimotor gating, and social cognition during negative stimuli as an adaptation to pervasively toxic environments and 2) the differential impact of acute versus chronic stress upon neurophysiological indices. Finally, child abuse duration might impact these ancillary and higher socioemotional processes differently among depressed youth primarily for negative but not positive self-processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100310
JournalNeurobiology of Stress
StatePublished - May 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021


  • Adolescence
  • Child abuse
  • Hippocampus
  • Neuroimaging
  • Self-processing


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