Earlier Onset of Adverse Childhood Events Linked With Worse Adulthood PTS Symptoms

Suffering child in dark room
Investigators assessed the impact of early-onset adverse childhood events on thalamic volume and subsequently the development of PTSD after trauma in adulthood.

The following article is a part of conference coverage from Psych Congress 2021 , held October 29th through November 1, 2021, in San Antonio, Texas. The team at Psychiatry Advisor will be reporting on the latest news and research conducted by leading experts in psychiatry. Check back for more from the Psych Congress 2021.


Early-onset adverse childhood events have been found to be associated with reduced thalamic development and could worsen the severity of post-traumatic stress (PTS) symptoms among adults who have experienced trauma, according to study results recently presented at Psych Congress 2021, held from October 29 to November 1, 2021, in San Antonio, Texas.

This study included 79 adults who presented to a hospital emergency department for treatment following a traumatic event that occurred within the previous 48 hours. The participants completed the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) within 2 weeks of their traumatic events, as well as the PTSD Checklist-Stressor Specific Version 5 (PCL) and the Childhood Age Range Stress Scale (CARSS). Participants also underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging. At 3 months following the traumatic event, all participants completed a PTSD diagnostic interview based on the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS).

Compared with the CARSS School and/or CARSS Low groups, CTQ and PCL scores were significantly higher at 2 weeks following trauma among the CARSS Preschool group, as were CAPS scores at 3 months following trauma. The CARSS Preschool Group also had significantly smaller bilateral thalamic volumes 2-weeks following trauma. Thalamic volume appeared to have a protective effect on PTSS severity, as it was observed to moderate the relationship between early PCL scores and later CAPS scores.

The study authors concluded that “earlier onset of [adverse childhood events] was associated with smaller bilateral thalamic volumes, along with increased [PTS symptom] severity at both 2 weeks and 3 months after adult trauma.” They indicated that “early onset [adverse childhood events] may affect thalamic development and ultimately increase [PTS symptom] severity in adult trauma survivors.”


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Huffman N, Shih CH, Grau A, Mattin M, Wang X, Xie H. The effect of early-onset adverse childhood experiences on thalamic volume and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Presented at: Psych Congress 2021; October 29-November 1, 2021; San Antonio, Texas. Poster 59.