Abuse, neglect, exposure to violence, and other forms of early life adversity (ELA) are incredibly common and significantly impact physical and mental development. While important progress has been made in understanding the impacts of ELA on behavior and the brain, the preponderance of past work has primarily centered on threat processing and vigilance while ignoring other potentially critical neurobehavioral processes, such as reward-responsiveness and learning. To advance our understanding of potential mechanisms linking ELA and poor mental health, we center in on structural connectivity of the corticostriatal circuit, specifically accumbofrontal white matter tracts. Here, in a sample of 77 youth (Mean age = 181 months), we leveraged rigorous measures of ELA, strong diffusion neuroimaging methodology, and computational modeling of reward learning. Linking these different forms of data, we hypothesized that higher ELA would be related to lower quantitative anisotropy in accumbofrontal white matter. Furthermore, we predicted that lower accumbofrontal quantitative anisotropy would be related to differences in reward learning. Our primary predictions were confirmed, but similar patterns were not seen in control white matter tracts outside of the corticostriatal circuit. Examined collectively, our work is one of the first projects to connect ELA to neural and behavioral alterations in reward-learning, a critical potential mechanism linking adversity to later developmental challenges. This could potentially provide windows of opportunity to address the effects of ELA through interventions and preventative programming.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health