Altered Brain Structure Seen in Institutionalized Children

White matter, but not gray matter, returns to normal in children who go into foster care

TUESDAY, July 24 (HealthDay News) -- Romanian children who are institutionalized have less gray and white brain matter, although white matter volume returns to normal levels in children who go into high-quality foster care, according to a study published online July 23 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Margaret A. Sheridan, Ph.D., from the Boston Children's Hospital, and colleagues used magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalography to assess brain structure and function in 74 Romanian children (8 to 11 years old), where 29 were exposed to institutional rearing, 25 had been institutionalized and were randomized to high-quality foster care, and 20 were typically developing children who had never been institutionalized.

The researchers found that both institutionalized groups had significantly smaller cortical gray matter volumes. Cortical white matter volume was the same in the institutionalized group placed in foster care and the never-institutionalized group, but was significantly smaller in the group who remained institutionalized. The previously reported electroencephalography α-power associated with institutionalization could be explained by these magnetic resonance imaging data, and this association was partially mediated by cortical white matter volume in children who remained institutionalized.

"The increase in white matter among children randomized to an improved rearing environment relative to children who remained in institutional care suggests the potential for developmental 'catch up' in white matter growth, even following extreme environmental deprivation," Sheridan and colleagues write.

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