Right frontal brain activity at rest in the early 20s predicts threat-related bias ten years later among extremely low birth weight survivors Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • Exposure to early adversity is known to shape brain-behavior relations, which in turn can lead to hypersensitivity to threat and an increased risk of developing a range of psychopathologies. To date, much of the work in this area has considered exposure to negative post-natal events (e.g., maltreatment) in shaping these relations in humans. Here we examined the influence of prenatal adversity in the form of a suboptimal intra-uterine environment (i.e., being born at extremely low birth weight; [ELBW i.e., < 1000 g]). ELBW babies are the tiniest and most at-risk infants and are known to be at risk for internalizing problems (e.g., depression and anxiety) from childhood through early adulthood. However, we know relatively little about the mechanism(s) underlying this risk. Using the oldest known prospectively followed cohort of ELBW survivors, we examined associations among birth weight status, individual differences in frontal brain electrical activity (EEG) at rest (a marker of affective style) at age 22-26 years, and threat-related biases to angry faces (using the dot probe task) at 30-35 years of age. We found that among ELBW adults, those displaying greater relative right frontal EEG activity at rest exhibited greater vigilance to angry faces than those exhibiting greater relative left frontal EEG activity (n = 34, r = -0.40, p = .02). This pattern was not observed among normal birth weight (NBW) control participants (n = 47, r = .08, p > .05). As well, the relation between frontal EEG asymmetry and vigilance to angry faces was stronger for the ELBW group versus the NBW group (z = -2.21, p =  .03). These findings suggest that exposure to significant prenatal adversity may have long-term programming effects on biological and cognitive systems associated with emotion regulatory processes in the fourth decade of life. We speculate that these vulnerabilities may contribute to making some ELBW survivors susceptible to psychopathology.

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publication date

  • June 2020