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Longitudinal changes in within-salience network functional connectivity mediate the relationship between childhood abuse and neglect, and mental health during adolescence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 August 2021

Divyangana Rakesh*
Department of Psychiatry, Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre, The University of Melbourne and Melbourne Health, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
Nicholas B. Allen
Department of Psychology, The University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, USA
Sarah Whittle*
Department of Psychiatry, Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre, The University of Melbourne and Melbourne Health, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
Authors for correspondence: Divyangana Rakesh, E-mail:;Sarah Whittle, E-mail:
Authors for correspondence: Divyangana Rakesh, E-mail:;Sarah Whittle, E-mail:



Understanding the neurobiological underpinnings of childhood maltreatment is vital given consistent links with poor mental health. Dimensional models of adversity purport that different types of adversity likely have distinct neurobiological consequences. Adolescence is a key developmental period, during which deviations from normative neurodevelopment may have particular relevance for mental health. However, longitudinal work examining links between different forms of maltreatment, neurodevelopment, and mental health is limited.


In the present study, we explored associations between abuse, neglect, and longitudinal development of within-network functional connectivity of the salience (SN), default mode (DMN), and executive control network in 142 community residing adolescents. Resting-state fMRI data were acquired at age 16 (T1; M = 16.46 years, s.d. = 0.52, 66F) and 19 (T2; mean follow-up period: 2.35 years). Mental health data were also collected at T1 and T2. Childhood maltreatment history was assessed prior to T1.


Abuse and neglect were both found to be associated with increases in within-SN functional connectivity from age 16 to 19. Further, there were sex differences in the association between neglect and changes in within-DMN connectivity. Finally, increases in within-SN connectivity were found to mediate the association between abuse/neglect and lower problematic substance use and higher depressive symptoms at age 19.


Our findings suggest that childhood maltreatment is associated with altered neurodevelopmental trajectories, and that changes in salience processing may be linked with risk and resilience for the development of depression and substance use problems during adolescence, respectively. Further work is needed to understand the distinct neurodevelopmental and mental health outcomes of abuse and neglect.

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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