Childhood Trauma Permanently Scars Brain (Limbic System) Boosting Likelihood of Depression & MKUltra Veterans Association Needed-Petition

Childhood Trauma Permanently Scars Brain, And Boosts Likelihood Of Depression

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Mar 24, 2019

Research has found that early trauma can lead to “limbic scarring” on the brain.

The Telegraph reports that a new study has found childhood trauma to physically scar the brain and increases the likelihood of severe depression for later in life.

Scientists have now linked changes in the physical structure of the brain to early traumatic experiences and to worse mental health later in life. The study found a “significant” link between people who were mistreated as children with a smaller insular cortex. This part of the brain is thought to assist in regulating emotions. The study focused specifically on “limbic scarring.” Previously, research has linked the scarring to stress.

The study involved 110 patients, aged 18 to 60, with major depression. The patients were given a questionnaire about childhood trauma, which covered physical abuse and neglect, emotional abuse and neglect, and sexual abuse. Afterwards, the patients were given MRI scans to search for changes in the structure of the brain.

Dr. Nils Opel, from the University of Munster, Germany, led the study. He said, “Given the impact of the insular cortex on brain functions such as emotional awareness, it’s possible that the changes we saw make patients less responsive to conventional treatments.”

Opel continued, “Future psychiatric research should therefore explore how our findings could be translated into special attention, care and treatment that could improve patient outcomes.”

The study suggests that limbic scarring, which causes a reduction in the area of the insular cortex, could make a depression relapse more likely. The research finds that childhood mistreatment is among the strongest risk factors for depression.

Priority CommunicationLimbic Scars: Long-Term Consequences of Childhood Maltreatment Revealed by Functional and Structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Author links open overlay panelUdoDannlowskiaAnjaStuhrmannaVictoriaBeutelmannaPeterZwanzgeraThomasLenzenaDominikGrotegerdaKatharinaDomschkeaChristaHohoffaPatriciaOhrmannaJochenBaueraChristianLindneraChristianPostertabCarstenKonraddVolkerAroltaWalterHeindelcThomasSuslowaeHaraldKugelcShow moreShareCite rights and contentReferred to byJoan KaufmanChild Abuse and Psychiatric IllnessBiological Psychiatry, Volume 71, Issue 4, 15 February 2012, Pages 280-281Purchase PDF


Childhood maltreatment represents a strong risk factor for the development of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in later life. In the present study, we investigated the neurobiological underpinnings of this association. Since both depression and PTSD have been associated with increased amygdala responsiveness to negative stimuli as well as reduced hippocampal gray matter volume, we speculated that childhood maltreatment results in similar functional and structural alterations in previously maltreated but healthy adults.


One hundred forty-eight healthy subjects were enrolled via public notices and newspaper announcements and were carefully screened for psychiatric disorders. Amygdala responsiveness was measured by means of functional magnetic resonance imaging and an emotional face-matching paradigm particularly designed to activate the amygdala in response to threat-related faces. Voxel-based morphometry was used to study morphological alterations. Childhood maltreatment was assessed by the 25-item Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ).


We observed a strong association of CTQ scores with amygdala responsiveness to threat-related facial expressions. The morphometric analysis yielded reduced gray matter volumes in the hippocampus, insula, orbitofrontal cortex, anterior cingulate gyrus, and caudate in subjects with high CTQ scores. Both of these associations were not influenced by trait anxiety, depression level, age, intelligence, education, or more recent stressful life events.


Childhood maltreatment is associated with remarkable functional and structural changes even decades later in adulthood. These changes strongly resemble findings described in depression and PTSD. Therefore, the present results might suggest that limbic hyperresponsiveness and reduced hippocampal volumes could be mediators between the experiences of adversities during childhood and the development of emotional disorders.

Key Words

Amygdalachildhood maltreatmentfMRIhippocampusstressvoxel-based morphometry

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