Childhood Neglect May Alter Brain’s White Matter

HealthDay News — Childhood neglect is associated with changes in the brain’s white matter, according to research published in JAMA Pediatrics.

The study involved 26 abandoned children in Romania who experienced social, emotional, language, and mental development neglect while living in institutions.

Study author Johanna Bick, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital and colleagues compared the 26 orphans with 23 children who were placed in high-quality foster care, and 20 children who grew up with their own families as part of the Bucharest Early Intervention Project.

The children were assessed at ages 30 months, 42 months, 54 months, 8 years, and 12 years.The researchers examined four measures of white matter integrity — fractional anisotropy  and mean, radial, and axial diffusivity — for 48 white matter tracts in the brain using diffusion tensor imaging.

The results showed a significant association between neglect early in life and changes in white matter, specifically in the corpus callosum, white matter tracts involved in limbic circuitry and cingulum, frontostriatal circuitry, corona radiata and external capsule, sensory processing and retrolenticular internal capsule.

However, changes in white matter were less significant in children who had been institutionalized and neglected, but placed in high-quality foster care at an early age, the researchers found.

“Results suggest that removal from conditions of neglect in early life and entry into a high-quality family environment can support more normative trajectories of white matter growth,” the researchers wrote. “Our findings have implications for public health and policy efforts designed to promote normative brain development among vulnerable children.”


  1. Bick J et al. JAMA Pediatrics. 2015; doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.3212.