AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 1, 2018


Poverty Linked to Brain Connectivity Changes, Depression

By analyzing the brain connectivity of 105 children, ages seven to 10, researchers from Washington University St. Louis found that key structures in the brain were connected differently in underprivileged children compared to kids who were being raised in affluent settings. The brain’s hippocampus, in particular, was found to be making connections to other areas of the brain differently in impoverished children than in kids whose families had higher incomes. Those connections, viewed using fMRI scans, were weaker, depending on the degree of poverty to which a child was exposed. The poorer the family, the more likely the hippocampus and amygdala would connect to other brain structures in ways the researchers characterized as weaker. In addition, poorer preschoolers were much more likely to have symptoms of clinical depression when they reached school age. “Our past research has shown that the brain’s anatomy can look different in poor children, with the size of the hippocampus and amygdala frequently altered in kids raised in poverty,” said the study’s first author. “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.” Those changes in connectivity also are related to a risk of clinical depression, and participants in the study who were poor as preschoolers were more likely to be depressed at age nine or 10. Previous research from the same group of investigators identified differences in the volume of gray matter, white matter and the size/volume of the hippocampus and amygdala. But they also found that many of those changes could be overcome through nurturing from parents. However, that proved to be untrue regarding changes in connectivity that were identified in the new study. To read more, click here.

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