Children experiencing emotional neglect or abuse can develop brain changes.


MRI evaluation found that childhood stress can lead to the development of depression. The study led by scientists at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland was recently published in the scientific journal, Neuropsychopharmacology.


The researchers noted, “Improved neurobiological understanding shows how stress and genetic variants interact and affect brain structure and function.  In turn it demonstrates how it could affect a person’s propensity for depression.  The structural alterations of the brain are associated with a higher vulnerability to depression and a more chronic course of the depression might be associated with further structural changes.


“Early intervention in the case of major depression is necessary to increase the change of a good disease outcome. Fortunately depression can be treated very well by psychotherapy and anti-depressant medication.  Moreover, prevention strategies for childhood neglect and misuses are highly important to increase public health and to avoid in later life for these individuals, the burden of major depression.”


The study was conducted on a total of 24 patients (aged 18-65) being treated as inpatients for major depression.  They were investigated with high-resolution structural MRI and childhood stress assessments.  Special analysis programs were used to measure brain regions. 


These patients were compared with 27 healthy control subjects from the local community who were matched for age and gender.  Further research is needed in a larger number of patients and controls to identify the underlying causes of depression and stress-gene interaction on brain structure as well as function.