Maternal Overprotection in Childhood is Associated with Amygdala Reactivity and Structural Connectivity in Adulthood
Recently, we reported that variability in early-life caregiving experiences maps onto individual differences in threat-related brain function. Here, we extend this work to provide further evidence that subtle variability in specific features of early caregiving shapes structural and functional connectivity between the amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) in a cohort of 312 young adult volunteers. Multiple regression analyses revealed that participants who reported higher maternal overprotection exhibited increased amygdala reactivity to explicit signals of interpersonal threat but not implicit signals of broad environmental threat. While amygdala functional connectivity with regulatory regions of the mPFC was not significantly associated with maternal overprotection, participants who reported higher maternal overprotection exhibited relatively decreased structural integrity of the uncinate fasciculus (UF), a white matter tract connecting these same brain regions. There were no significant associations between structural or functional brain measures and either maternal or paternal care ratings. These findings suggest that an overprotective maternal parenting style during childhood is associated with later functional and structural alterations of brain regions involved in generating and regulating responses to threat.
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