Maternal adverse childhood experiences and infant subcortical brain volume

Catherine H. Demers, Benjamin L. Hankin, Ella Marie P. Hennessey, Mercedes Hoeflich Haase, Maria M. Bagonis, Sun Hyung Kim, John H. Gilmore, M. Camille Hoffman, Martin A. Styner, Elysia Poggi Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: A large body of research supports the deleterious effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on disease susceptibility and health for both the exposed individual and the next generation. It is likely that there is an intergenerational transmission of risk from mother to child; however, the mechanisms through which such risk is conferred remain unknown. The current study evaluated the association between maternal ACEs, neonatal brain development of the amygdala and hippocampus, and later infant negative emotionality at six months of age. Methods: The sample included 85 mother-infant dyads (44 female infants) from a longitudinal study. Maternal ACEs were assessed with the Adverse Childhood Experiences Questionnaire (ACE-Q) and neonatal hippocampal and amygdala volume was assessed using structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Infant negative emotionality was assessed at 6 months using the Infant Behavior Questionnaire (IBQ). Results: Multivariate analyses demonstrated that maternal ACEs were associated with bilateral amygdala volume (F(2,78) = 3.697,p =.029). Specifically, higher maternal ACEs were associated with smaller left (β = -0.220, t(79) = -2.661, p =.009, R2= 0.494, and right (β = −0.167, t(79) = -2.043, p =.044, R2= 0.501) amygdala volume. No significant association between maternal ACEs and bilateral hippocampal volume (F(2,78) = 0.215,p =.0807) was found. Follow-up regression analyses demonstrated that both high maternal ACEs and smaller left amygdala volume were associated with higher infant negative emotionality at six months of age (β =.232, p =.040, R2= 0.094, and β = −0.337, p =.022, R2= 0.16, respectively) although statistically significant mediation of this effect was not observed (Indirect effect = 0.0187, 95% CI [-0.0016-0.0557]). Conclusions: Maternal ACEs are associated with both newborn amygdala volume and subsequent infant negative emotionality. These findings linking maternal adverse childhood experiences and infant brain development and temperament provide evidence to support the intergenerational transmission of adversity from mother to child.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100487
JournalNeurobiology of Stress
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • Amygdala
  • Gray matter volume
  • Hippocampus
  • Intergenerational transmission
  • Maternal adverse childhood experiences
  • Negative emotionality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Endocrinology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology


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