News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

The speed of technology in neuroscience as it impacts ethical and just decisions in the legal system needs to be understood by lawyers, judges, public policy makers, and the general public. The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is an academic and professional resource for the education, research, and understanding of neuroscience and the law. Read more

MGH-USC Human Connectome Project Datasets with Ultra-High b-Value Diffusion MRI

By Qiuyun Fan, Thomas Witzel, Aapo Nummenmaa, Koene R.A. Van Dijk, John D. Van Horn, Michelle K. Drews, Leah H. SomervilleMargaret A. Sheridan, Rosario M. Santillana, Jenna Snyder, Trey Hedden, Emily E. Shaw, Marisa O. Hollinshead, Ville Renvall, Roberta Zanzonico, Boris Keil, Stephen Cauley, Jonathan R. Polimeni, Dylan Tisdall, Randy L. Buckner, Van J. Wedeen, Lawrence L. Wald, Arthur W. Toga, and Bruce R. Rosen | NeuroImage | September 10, 2015

Abstract:

The MGH–USC CONNECTOM MRI scanner housed at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) is a major hardware innovation of the Human Connectome Project (HCP). The 3T CONNECTOM scanner is capable of producing a magnetic field gradient of up to 300 mT/m strength for in vivo human brain imaging, which greatly shortens the time spent on diffusion encoding, and decreases the signal loss due to T2 decay. To demonstrate the capability of the novel gradient system, data of healthy adult participants were acquired for this MGH–USC Adult Diffusion Dataset (N = 35), minimally preprocessed, and shared through the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging Image Data Archive (LONI IDA) and the WU–Minn Connectome Database (ConnectomeDB). Another purpose of sharing the data is to facilitate methodological studies of diffusion MRI (dMRI) analyses utilizing high diffusion contrast, which perhaps is not easily feasible with standard MR gradient system. In addition, acquisition of the MGH–Harvard–USC Lifespan Dataset is currently underway to include 120 healthy participants ranging from 8 to 90 years old, which will also be shared through LONI IDA and ConnectomeDB. Here we describe the efforts of the MGH–USC HCP consortium in acquiring and sharing the ultra-high b-value diffusion MRI data and provide a report on data preprocessing and access. We conclude with a demonstration of the example data, along with results of standard diffusion analyses, including q-ball Orientation Distribution Function (ODF) reconstruction and tractography.

Read the full paper here.

Exposure to Violence in Childhood is Associated with Higher Body Mass Index in Adolescence

By Holly C. Gooding, Carly Milliren, S. Bryn Austin, Margaret A. Sheridan, and Katie A. McLaughlin | Child Abuse & Neglect | August 21, 2015

Abstract:

To determine whether different types of childhood adversity are associated with body mass index (BMI) in adolescence, we studied 147 adolescents aged 13–17 years, 41% of whom reported exposure to at least one adversity (maltreatment, abuse, peer victimization, or witness to community or domestic violence). We examined associations between adversity type and age- and sex-specific BMI z-scores using linear regression and overweight and obese status using logistic regression. We adjusted for potential socio-demographic, behavioral, and psychological confounders and tested for effect modification by gender. Adolescents with a history of sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or peer victimization did not have significantly different BMI z-scores than those without exposure (p > 0.05 for all comparisons). BMI z-scores were higher in adolescents who had experienced physical abuse (β = 0.50, 95% CI 0.12–0.91) or witnessed domestic violence (β = 0.85, 95% CI 0.30–1.40). Participants who witnessed domestic violence had almost 6 times the odds of being overweight or obese (95% CI: 1.09–30.7), even after adjustment for potential confounders. No gender-by-adversity interactions were found. Exposure to violence in childhood is associated with higher adolescent BMI. This finding highlights the importance of screening for violence in pediatric practice and providing obesity prevention counseling for youth.

Read the full paper here.

Child Maltreatment and Neural Systems Underlying Emotion Regulation

By Katie A. McLaughlin, Matthew Peverill, Andrea L. Gold, Sonia Alves, and Margaret Sheridan | Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry | June 26, 2015

Abstract:

Objective

The strong associations between child maltreatment and psychopathology have generated interest in identifying neurodevelopmental processes that are disrupted following maltreatment. Previous research has largely focused on neural response to negative facial emotion. We determined whether child maltreatment was associated with neural responses during passive viewing of negative and positive emotional stimuli and effortful attempts to regulate emotional responses.

Method

42 adolescents aged 13-19 years, half with exposure to physical and/or sexual abuse, participated. Blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) response was measured during passive viewing of negative and positive emotional stimuli and attempts to modulate emotional responses using cognitive reappraisal.

Results

Maltreated adolescents exhibited heightened response in multiple nodes of the salience network, including amygdala, putamen, and anterior insula, to negative relative to neutral stimuli. During attempts to decrease responses to negative stimuli relative to passive viewing, maltreatment was associated with greater recruitment of superior frontal gyrus, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, and frontal pole; adolescents with and without maltreatment down-regulated amygdala response to a similar degree. No associations were observed between maltreatment and neural response to positive emotional stimuli during passive viewing or effortful regulation.

Conclusion

Child maltreatment heightens the salience of negative emotional stimuli. Although maltreated adolescents modulate amygdala responses to negative cues to a similar degree as non-maltreated youths, they utilize regions involved in effortful control to a greater degree to do so, potentially because greater effort is required to modulate heightened amygdala responses. These findings are promising, given the centrality of cognitive restructuring in trauma-focused treatments for children.

Read full paper here.

Childhood adversity and neural development: Deprivation and threat as distinct dimensions of early experience

By Katie McLaughlin, Margaret Sheridan & Hilary Lambert | Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews | November 2014

ABSTRACT:
A growing body of research has examined the impact of childhood adversity on neural structure and function. Advances in our understanding of the neurodevelopmental consequences of adverse early environments require the identification of dimensions of environmental experience that influence neural development differently and mechanisms other than the frequently-invoked stress pathways. We propose a novel conceptual framework that differentiates between deprivation (absence of expected environmental inputs and complexity) and threat (presence of experiences that represent a threat to one’s physical integrity) and make predictions grounded in basic neuroscience principles about their distinct effects on neural development. We review animal research on fear learning and sensory deprivation as well as human research on childhood adversity and neural development to support these predictions. We argue that these previously undifferentiated dimensions of experience exert strong and distinct influences on neural development that cannot be fully explained by prevailing models focusing only on stress pathways. Our aim is not to exhaustively review existing evidence on childhood adversity and neural development, but to provide a novel framework to guide future research.

Read the full paper.

Working group to tackle juvenile brain & justice system

Beginning in summer 2014, as part of a venture into juvenile justice as an ongoing program area, CLBB convened a faculty juvenile justice working group to bring together experts in the adolescent brain and criminal justice to respond to key ethical and legal issues at their intersections. The groups, drawing from the Harvard Law and Medical Schools and Harvard University Psychology Faculty, will convene for ongoing expert faculty meetings, academic publications, and a public seminar event. The group is supported by the Harvard Mind Brain Behavior Interfaculty Initiative. View the initial announcement here.

CLBB Faculty and working group members include adolescent brain researchers Leah Somerville, PhD and Margaret Sheridan, PhD, adolescent psychiatrist Gene Beresin, MD, and juvenile offender evaluation and juvenile justice policy experts Thomas Grisso, PhD, Robert Kinscherff, PhD, Esq., and Gina Vincent, PhD.

The group will culminate its first year with a public Symposium on Juvenile Justice on Thursday, March 12, 2015. The Symposium will take place at the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center of Harvard Medical School. View event details and RSVP.