This K23 application advances the PI's long-term research goal of establishing an independent line of longitudinal, developmental neuroimaging research examining neurobiological alterations in cognitive and affective processing that may confer risk for future psychopathology in youth who have experienced childhood abuse. Additional long-term goals include using this information to inform treatment development and evaluate treatment effectiveness using neuroimaging. The proposed training will enable the PI to develop skills and expertise in five primary areas: longitudinal methodology, pediatric trauma research, developmental neuroimaging, advanced neuroimaging techniques, and ethical conduct of research. The proposed research study provides the PI with hands-on training to utilize these newly learned skills in the context of a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of adolescents with a history of childhood interpersonal trauma (CIT;e.g., sexual abuse, physical abuse). It has been well-established that individuals with a history of CIT demonstrate altered brain mechanisms related to threat responding and processing. Findings of altered cognition for both neutral and threat information in trauma-exposed individuals suggest possible core deficits may exist, in addition to enhanced threat responding. Characterizing core deficits is important and would allow us to identify altered mechanisms that: 1) could be treatment targets, and 2) may overlap with other clinical disorders and therefore contribute to high comorbidity rates. Inhibition has been proposed as a possible core deficit in trauma-exposed individuals. However, little is known about the developmental trajectory of altered cognitive processing, including inhibitory processing, in trauma-exposed youth. Adolescence may be a particularly crucial period to study, as further neuromaturation is occurring and some effects of childhood trauma on brain processes is not evident until adolescence. The proposed study examines alterations in cognitive inhibition in a sample of adolescents (age 13-17 years) with a history of CIT (physical or sexual abuse) compared to a sample of age-matched adolescents with no history of trauma. Cognitive inhibition involves clearing no longer relevant information from working memory. In order to examine cognitive inhibition, adolescents will complete a neutral and emotional version of a task-switching paradigm while undergoing an fMRI scan. Activation during conditions requiring cognitive inhibition will be contrasted between the two groups and overlapping and disparate regions involved in the cognitive inhibition of neutral and emotional information will be examined. Additionally, the interaction between age and activation as well as the impact of age of trauma-exposure on task activation will be investigated. The ability of activation during inhibition to predict future clinical symptoms will e explored in preliminary data. Additional exploratory analyses of resting state functional connectivity and white matter microstructure in adolescents with a history of CIT will be conducted.
Childhood abuse has long-lasting effects that are present from childhood through adulthood, and these effects may be related to changes in brain processes and development. A better understanding of brain changes associated with childhood abuse could contribute to increased awareness of why youth and adults with a history of childhood abuse are at increased risk for developing different clinical disorders. This information can also help us develop better treatments for people with a history of childhood abuse.