Sensitive Periods for the Effects of Childhood Maltreatment on Functional Connectivity in Cognitive Control and Risk Processing Systems

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


It is well established that childhood adversity is associated with long lasting effects on development including both negative physical and mental health outcomes. Research demonstrates that adverse childhood experiences influence neurodevelopment and propose that this may be a mechanism linking adversity and psychopathology. However, little is known how the timing and type of maltreatment experiences may differentially impact longitudinal changes in neural processes of risk-related decision making. Using conditional growth curve modeling, we examined how abuse and neglect across three developmental periods (early childhood, school age, and adolescence) are associated with longitudinal changes in task-based functional connectivity during risk-processing and cognitive control. The current sample included 167 adolescents (13-14 years old at Time 1; 53% male), assessed annually for six years. At each of the six time points, adolescents completed a lottery choice task and a cognitive control task while blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) responses were monitored with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Adolescents reported on maltreatment experiences occurring during ages 1 to 18. Generalized psychophysiological interactions (gPPI) was used to examine task- based functional connectivity in the insula and dACC (dorsal anterior cingulate cortex) during both risk processing and cognitive control, respectively. Although no sensitive periods emerged for the effects of abuse or neglect on functional connectivity during risk processing, chronic abuse (abuse occurring in more than one developmental period) significantly predicted weaker insula-dACC connectivity in late adolescence. For functional connectivity during cognitive control, adolescence emerged as a potential sensitive period for neglect, such that those with neglect experiences occurring during ages 13 to 18 showed slower improvements in dACC- insula connectivity across adolescence. Chronic neglect was also associated with slower improvements in dACC-insula connectivity. Additionally, chronic abuse was significantly associated with stronger improvements in dACC-insula connectivity across adolescence. Collectively, these results suggest that abuse may be linked to a delayed maturation in neural connectivity associated with valuation, but an accelerated maturation in neural connectivity associated with cognitive control. Furthermore, neglect may be linked to a delayed maturation in neural connectivity associated with cognitive control. Both sets of findings involved functional connectivity in both the dACC and insula, important regions involved in salience processing. These findings elucidate the distinct effects of abuse and neglect on connectivity in regions involved in risk-related decision making, including valuation and cognitive control. Future work will benefit from examining how these different pathways may lead to outcomes such as health risk behaviors and psychopathology.



maltreatment, brain connectivity, risk processing, cognitive control