Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Size, connectivity of brain region linked to anxiety level in young children

Date:
November 20, 2013
Source:
Stanford University Medical Center
Summary:
Researchers have shown that by measuring the size and connectivity of a part of the brain associated with processing emotion -- the amygdala -- they can predict the degree of anxiety a young child is experiencing in daily life.

Prolonged stress and anxiety during childhood is a risk factor for developing anxiety disorders and depression later in life. Now, Stanford University School of Medicine researchers have shown that by measuring the size and connectivity of a part of the brain associated with processing emotion -- the amygdala -- they can predict the degree of anxiety a young child is experiencing in daily life.

Related Articles


They found that the larger the amygdala and the stronger its connections with other parts of the brain involved in perception and regulation of emotion, the greater the amount of anxiety a child was experiencing.

The findings do not mean that a young child with an enlarged and highly connected amygdala will necessarily go on to develop a mood disorder, said Vinod Menon, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and senior author of the study, published online Nov. 20 in Biological Psychiatry.

"We are not at a point where we can use these findings to predict the likelihood of a child developing mood and anxiety disorders as an adult, but it is an important step in the identification of young children at risk for clinical anxiety," Menon said.

Participants in the study were 76 children ages 7 to 9. "For the cognitive emotional assessments to be reliable, 7 years old is about as young as a child can be," said Menon, who is a member of the Child Health Research Institute at Stanford. "But the changes to the amygdala may have started earlier."

The parents of the children in the study filled out the Childhood Behavior Checklist, a standard measure of a child's general cognitive, social and emotional well-being. All the children in the study were typically developing, with no history of neurological or psychiatric disorders, and were not using medication. None of the children in the study were experiencing so much anxiety in their daily lives that they could be considered clinically anxious.

The researchers compared the results of the assessment with the size and connectivity data of each child's brain to draw their conclusions.

Anxiety is a common emotional reaction to stress. It normally helps us cope with difficult situations. But sustained anxiety can lead to disabling conditions such as phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety disorder

Studies of adults suffering from anxiety disorders have shown that they possess enlarged, highly connected amygdalae. Studies of laboratory animals placed in an environment causing chronic stress have determined that the animals' amygdalae grew additional synapses and that synaptic connectivity increased in response to the resulting persistent anxiety.

The amygdala is an evolutionarily primitive part of the brain located deep in the temporal lobe. It comprises several subregions associated with different aspects of perceiving, learning and regulating emotions.

The basolateral amygdala, a subregion important for processing emotion-related sensory information and communicating it to the neocortex -- the evolutionarily newer part of the brain -- is specifically where Shaozheng Qin, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar and lead author of the study, detected the enlargement.

Qin used magnetic resonance imaging to measure the size of the various subregions of the amygdala and functional MRI to measure the connectivity of those regions to other areas of the brain.

"The basolateral amygdala had stronger functional connections with multiple areas of the neocortex in children with higher anxiety levels," Qin said.

The researchers identified four functional neocortical systems that were affected. One of the systems deals with perception, another with attention and vigilance, a third with reward and motivation, and the fourth with detection of salient emotional stimuli and regulation of emotional responses.

"All four of these core systems are impacted by childhood anxiety," Qin said.

Menon said they were surprised that alterations to the structure and connectivity of the amygdala were so significant in the children with higher levels of anxiety, given both the young age of the children and the fact that their anxiety levels were too low to be considered clinical.

The study provides important new insights into the developmental origins of anxiety, he added. Understanding the influence of childhood anxiety on specific amygdala circuits, as identified in the study, could aid in the early identification and treatment of children at risk for anxiety disorders.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Stanford University Medical Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Stanford University Medical Center. "Size, connectivity of brain region linked to anxiety level in young children." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 November 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131120081432.htm>.
Stanford University Medical Center. (2013, November 20). Size, connectivity of brain region linked to anxiety level in young children. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131120081432.htm
Stanford University Medical Center. "Size, connectivity of brain region linked to anxiety level in young children." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131120081432.htm (accessed December 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) In Yarumal, a village in N. Colombia, Alzheimer's has ravaged a disproportionately large number of families. A genetic "curse" that may pave the way for research on how to treat the disease that claims a new victim every four seconds. Duration: 02:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Buzz60 (Dec. 19, 2014) A double-amputee makes history by becoming the first person to wear and operate two prosthetic arms using only his mind. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) Harvard researchers found children whose mothers were exposed to high pollution levels in the third trimester were twice as likely to develop autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Yoga can help your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and heart just as much as biking and walking does, a new study suggests. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins