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Childhood trauma, brain structure and emotion recognition in patients with schizophrenia and healthy participants

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Karolina I Rokita, Laurena Holleran, Maria R Dauvermann, David Mothersill, Jessica Holland, Laura Costello, Ruán Kane, Declan McKernan, Derek W Morris, John P Kelly, Aiden Corvin, Brian Hallahan, Colm McDonald, Gary Donohoe

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1336-1350
Number of pages15
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number12
Published24 Dec 2020

King's Authors


Childhood trauma, and in particular physical neglect, has been repeatedly associated with lower performance on measures of social cognition (e.g. emotion recognition tasks) in both psychiatric and non-clinical populations. The neural mechanisms underpinning this association have remained unclear. Here, we investigated whether volumetric changes in three stress-sensitive regions-the amygdala, hippocampus and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)-mediate the association between childhood trauma and emotion recognition in a healthy participant sample (N = 112) and a clinical sample of patients with schizophrenia (N = 46). Direct effects of childhood trauma, specifically physical neglect, on Emotion Recognition Task were observed in the whole sample. In healthy participants, reduced total and left ACC volumes were observed to fully mediate the association between both physical neglect and total childhood trauma score, and emotion recognition. No mediating effects of the hippocampus and amygdala volumes were observed for either group. These results suggest that reduced ACC volume may represent part of the mechanism by which early life adversity results in poorer social cognitive function. Confirmation of the causal basis of this association would highlight the importance of resilience-building interventions to mitigate the detrimental effects of childhood trauma on brain structure and function.

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