Brain Imaging and Behavior

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 449–458 | Cite as

Childhood adversity associated with white matter alteration in the corpus callosum, corona radiata, and uncinate fasciculus of psychiatrically healthy adults

  • Simon McCarthy-Jones
  • Lena K. L. Oestreich
  • Amanda E. Lyall
  • Zora Kikinis
  • Dominick T. Newell
  • Peter Savadjiev
  • Martha E. Shenton
  • Marek Kubicki
  • Ofer Pasternak
  • Thomas J. Whitford
  • Australian Schizophrenia Research Bank
Original Research


Diffusion tensor imaging studies report childhood adversity (CA) is associated with reduced fractional anisotropy (FA) in multiple white matter tracts in adults. Reduced FA may result from changes in tissue, suggesting myelin/axonal damage, and/or from increased levels of extracellular free-water, suggesting atrophy or neuroinflammation. Free-water imaging can separately identify FA in tissue (FAT) and the fractional volume of free-water (FW). We tested whether CA was associated with altered FA, FAT, and FW in seven white matter regions of interest (ROI), in which FA changes had been previously linked to CA (corona radiata, corpus callosum, fornix, cingulum bundle: hippocampal projection, inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, superior longitudinal fasciculus, uncinate fasciculus). Tract-based spatial statistics were performed in 147 psychiatrically healthy adults who had completed a self-report questionnaire on CA primarily stemming from parental maltreatment. ROI were extracted according to the protocol provided by the ENIGMA-DTI working group. Analyses were performed both treating CA as a continuous and a categorical variable. CA was associated with reduced FA in all ROI (although categorical analyses failed to find an association in the fornix). In contrast, CA was only associated with reduced FAT in the corona radiata, corpus callosum, and uncinate fasciculus (with the continuous measure of CA finding evidence of a negative relation between CA and FAT in the fornix). There was no association between CA on FW in any ROI. These results provide preliminary evidence that childhood adversity is associated with changes to the microstructure of white matter itself in adulthood. However, these results should be treated with caution until they can be replicated by future studies which address the limitations of the present study.


Abuse Diffusion tensor imaging Free-water Trauma 


Compliance with ethical standards


This study was supported by the Schizophrenia Research Institute using data from the Australian Schizophrenia Research Bank, funded by NHMRC Enabling Grant (No.386500) held by V Carr, U Schall, R Scott, A Jablensky, B Mowry, P Michie, S Catts, F Henskens and C Pantelis (Chief Investigators), and the Pratt Foundation, Ramsay Health Care, the Viertel Charitable Foundation, as well the Schizophrenia Research Institute, using an infrastructure grant from the NSW Ministry of Health. Simon McCarthy-Jones’s work was in part supported by Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DE140101077). Thomas Whitford is supported by a Discovery Project from the Australian Research Council (DP140104394), a Career Development Fellowship from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (APP1090507). Ofer Pasternak, Marek Kubicki, Martha E Shenton and Amanda Lyall are supported by the following National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants: RO1MH108574 (OP, MK and MES), R01AG04252 (MK and OP), R01MH102377 (MK, MES and OP), R01MH074794 (OP), P41EB015902 (OP, MES), T32MH016259 (AL). Peter Savadjiev is supported by a Young Investigator Award from the NARSAD Brain and Behavior Research Foundation (22591).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study by the Australian Schizophrenia Research Bank at the time of data collection.

Supplementary material

11682_2017_9703_MOESM1_ESM.docx (12 kb)
Table S1 (DOCX 11 kb)
11682_2017_9703_MOESM2_ESM.docx (12 kb)
Table S2 (DOCX 11 kb)
11682_2017_9703_MOESM3_ESM.docx (12 kb)
Table S3 (DOCX 11 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simon McCarthy-Jones
    • 1
  • Lena K. L. Oestreich
    • 2
  • Amanda E. Lyall
    • 3
  • Zora Kikinis
    • 3
  • Dominick T. Newell
    • 3
  • Peter Savadjiev
    • 3
    • 4
  • Martha E. Shenton
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Marek Kubicki
    • 3
    • 4
  • Ofer Pasternak
    • 3
    • 4
  • Thomas J. Whitford
    • 2
  • Australian Schizophrenia Research Bank
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, and Trinity College Institute of NeuroscienceTrinity College DublinDublinIreland
  2. 2.School of PsychologyUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Psychiatry, Psychiatry Neuroimaging LaboratoryBrigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  4. 4.Department of RadiologyBrigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  5. 5.VA Boston Healthcare SystemBostonUSA
  6. 6.Schizophrenia Research InstituteRandwickAustralia

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