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Study says anxiety in toddlers could alter brain physically

By Sravanth Verma     Feb 8, 2015 in Health
A new study from the Yale Child Study Center has shown that anxiety in preschoolers can physically change the structure of their brains.
Children aged between two and five years of age, who suffered from anxiety disorders such as social phobia, separation anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder, were found to have weaker connections between the regions of the brain called the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. These two areas modulate anxiety with their "cross-talk," which occurs at a reduced level among such children. Different anxiety disorders were found to result in different connectivity patterns.
“Now that we know what a mechanistic brain characteristic of anxiety looks like in preschoolers, we have a much more reliable and quantitative [understanding of anxiety rather] than a broad diagnosis,” said Kevin Pelphrey, senior author and the co-director of the center for translational developmental neuroscience.
As a part of the study, preschoolers were first studied through a psychiatric assessment test given to parents, to assess children's behavioral and emotional patterns. Five years later, the children were put through fMRI scans which revealed the structure of their brains.
“It’s very interesting,” said Gabriela Rosenblau, who is working as a postdoctoral assistant at the center. She pointed out that different disorders result in different symptoms, but also different physiology manifesting the brain. She noted that neural markers may exist through which disorders could be identified by studying the brain structure of a patient.
The jury is still out on whether these physical changes can be repaired. Neuroplasticity, the magnitude of change that is possible in a grown brain, is still a grey area. Pelphrey however is optimistic. “Five years ago, you would have had scientists saying, ‘[Changing brain connectivity is] not possible in adults … You’re not going to change their underlying brain biology,’” Pelphrey said. “But I think neuroscientists are more and more surprised as to just how plastic the brain is all the way through adulthood.”
The study was published on January 27 in Plos One, and was the first in which children went through fMRIs at such an early age. The study suggests that future research can investigate how effective various treatments are, by studying fMRI scans of patients.
More about anxiety disorder, Toddlers, Brain