Child­hood poverty linked to brain changes re­lated to de­pres­sion

Pakistan Observer - - LAHORE CITY -

Chil­dren from poorer fam­i­lies are more likely to ex­pe­ri­ence changes in brain con­nec­tiv­ity that put them at higher risk of de­pres­sion, com­pared with chil­dren from more af­flu­ent fam­i­lies. This is the con­clu­sion of the new study by re­searchers from the Washington Univer­sity School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO.

First study au­thor Deanna M. Barch, PhD, chair of the De­part­ment of Psy­cho­log­i­cal & Brain Sciences in Arts & Sciences, and col­leagues pub­lish their find­ings in The Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Psy­chi­a­try. The study builds on pre­vi­ous re­search from the team pub­lished last year, which found that chil­dren raised in poverty have re­duced gray and white mat­ter vol­umes in the brain, com­pared with those raised in richer fam­i­lies.

For this lat­est study, the team set out to in­ves­ti­gate whether child­hood poverty may also lead to brain changes that in­flu­ence mood and risk of de­pres­sion, given that chil­dren raised in poorer fam­i­lies tend to be at higher risk of psy­chi­atric ill­ness and have worse cog­ni­tive and ed­u­ca­tional out­comes.

The team cal­cu­lated the poverty lev­els of the chil­dren us­ing an in­come-to-needs ra­tio, which ac­counts for a fam­ily’s size and yearly in­come. At present, the fed­eral poverty level in the US is $24,250 a year for a fam­ily of four.

Be­tween the ages of 7-12, the chil­dren un­der­went func­tional mag­netic res­o­nance imag­ing (fMRI), which al­lowed the re­searchers to an­a­lyze the brain con­nec­tions in the hip­pocam­pus - the re­gion im­por­tant for learn­ing, mem­ory and stress reg­u­la­tion - and the amyg­dala - a re­gion as­so­ci­ated with stress and emo­tion.

Com­pared with preschool­ers from higher-in­come fam­i­lies, those from lower-in­come fam­i­lies demon­strated weaker con­nec­tions be­tween the left hip­pocam­pus and the right su­pe­rior frontal cor­tex, as well as weaker con­nec­tions be­tween the right amyg­dala and the right lin­gual gyrus.

The re­searchers found that these weak­ened brain con­nec­tions among preschool chil­dren raised in poverty were as­so­ci­ated with greater risk of clin­i­cal de­pres­sion at the age of 9 or 10. “In this study, we found that the way those struc­tures con­nect with the rest of the brain changes in ways we would con­sider to be less help­ful in reg­u­lat­ing emo­tion and stress,” ex­plains Barch.

What is more, the team found that the poorer chil­dren were at preschool age, the more likely they were to have weaker brain con­nec­tions and de­pres­sion at school age.

Early in­ter­ven­tion key for pos­i­tive emo­tional de­vel­op­ment While the team’s ear­lier re­search found that it may be pos­si­ble to over­come some changes in brain struc­ture linked to poverty - by im­prov­ing a child’s home en­vi­ron­ment, for ex­am­ple no such as­so­ci­a­tion was iden­ti­fied in this lat­est study.

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