Internal capsule microstructure mediates the relationship between childhood maltreatment and PTSD following adulthood trauma exposure

Samantha A. Wong, Lauren A.M. Lebois, Timothy D. Ely, Sanne J.H. van Rooij, Steven E. Bruce, Vishnu P. Murty, Tanja Jovanovic, Stacey L. House, Francesca L. Beaudoin, Xinming An, Donglin Zeng, Thomas C. Neylan, Gari D. Clifford, Sarah D. Linnstaedt, Laura T. Germine, Kenneth A. Bollen, Scott L. Rauch, John P. Haran, Alan B. Storrow, Christopher LewandowskiPaul I. Musey, Phyllis L. Hendry, Sophia Sheikh, Christopher W. Jones, Brittany E. Punches, Michael C. Kurz, Robert A. Swor, Lauren A. Hudak, Jose L. Pascual, Mark J. Seamon, Claire Pearson, David A. Peak, Roland C. Merchant, Robert M. Domeier, Niels K. Rathlev, Brian J. O’Neil, Paulina Sergot, Leon D. Sanchez, Mark W. Miller, Robert H. Pietrzak, Jutta Joormann, Deanna M. Barch, Diego A. Pizzagalli, Steven E. Harte, James M. Elliott, Ronald C. Kessler, Karestan C. Koenen, Samuel A. McLean, Kerry J. Ressler, Jennifer S. Stevens, Nathaniel G. Harnett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Childhood trauma is a known risk factor for trauma and stress-related disorders in adulthood. However, limited research has investigated the impact of childhood trauma on brain structure linked to later posttraumatic dysfunction. We investigated the effect of childhood trauma on white matter microstructure after recent trauma and its relationship with future posttraumatic dysfunction among trauma-exposed adult participants (n = 202) recruited from emergency departments as part of the AURORA Study. Participants completed self-report scales assessing prior childhood maltreatment within 2-weeks in addition to assessments of PTSD, depression, anxiety, and dissociation symptoms within 6-months of their traumatic event. Fractional anisotropy (FA) obtained from diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) collected at 2-weeks and 6-months was used to index white matter microstructure. Childhood maltreatment load predicted 6-month PTSD symptoms (b = 1.75, SE = 0.78, 95% CI = [0.20, 3.29]) and inversely varied with FA in the bilateral internal capsule (IC) at 2-weeks (p = 0.0294, FDR corrected) and 6-months (p = 0.0238, FDR corrected). We observed a significant indirect effect of childhood maltreatment load on 6-month PTSD symptoms through 2-week IC microstructure (b = 0.37, Boot SE = 0.18, 95% CI = [0.05, 0.76]) that fully mediated the effect of childhood maltreatment load on PCL-5 scores (b = 1.37, SE = 0.79, 95% CI = [−0.18, 2.93]). IC microstructure did not mediate relationships between childhood maltreatment and depressive, anxiety, or dissociative symptomatology. Our findings suggest a unique role for IC microstructure as a stable neural pathway between childhood trauma and future PTSD symptoms following recent trauma. Notably, our work did not support roles of white matter tracts previously found to vary with PTSD symptoms and childhood trauma exposure, including the cingulum bundle, uncinate fasciculus, and corpus callosum. Given the IC contains sensory fibers linked to perception and motor control, childhood maltreatment might impact the neural circuits that relay and process threat-related inputs and responses to trauma.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5140-5149
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2023


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