January 16, 2016

Poverty linked to childhood depression, changes in brain connectivity

Functional MRI scans show areas in the brains of poor children with normal connectivity
highlighted in red and blue, and weakened connectivity shown in green. The areas in
green are among several areas — detailed in other brain scans — where connections
are weakened in children raised in poverty.

(January 16, 2016)  Conditions associated with poverty appear to interfere with how key brain regions connect and increase depression risk in children

Many negative consequences are linked to growing up poor, and researchers at Washington University St. Louis have identified one more: altered brain connectivity.

Analyzing brain scans of 105 children ages 7 to 12, the researchers found that key structures in the brain are connected differently in poor children than in kids raised in more affluent settings. In particular, the brain’s hippocampus — a structure key to learning, memory and regulation of stress — and the amygdala — which is linked to stress and emotion — connect to other areas of the brain differently in poor children than in kids whose families had higher incomes.

Those connections, viewed using functional MRI scans, were weaker, depending on the degree of poverty to which a child was exposed. The poorer the family, the more likely the hippocampus and amygdala would connect to other brain structures in ways the researchers characterized as weaker. In addition, poorer preschoolers were much more likely to have symptoms of clinical depression when they reached school age.

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