Development and Psychopathology

Regular Articles

Adolescent females exposed to child maltreatment exhibit atypical EEG coherence and psychiatric impairment: Linking early adversity, the brain, and psychopathology

Vladimir Miskovica1, Louis A. Schmidta1a2 c1, Katholiki Georgiadesa1a2, Michael Boylea1a2 and Harriet L. Macmillana1a2

a1 McMaster University

a2 McMaster Children's Hospital


Although the relation between child maltreatment and psychiatric impairment is well documented and preliminary evidence has linked child maltreatment with aberrant cortical connectivity of the left hemisphere, no investigations have attempted to examine these relations in the same study. Here, we examined the links among early adversity, brain connectivity, and functional outcomes. We collected resting regional EEG intra- and interhemispheric α-band (7.5–12.5 Hz) coherence and measures of general psychiatric impairment from a cohort of 38 adolescent females exposed to child maltreatment (M age = 14.47) and 24 adolescent females not exposed to child maltreatment (M age = 14.00). Maltreated youths exhibited more left hemisphere EEG coherence than the control youths, suggesting a suboptimal organization of cortical networks. Maltreated participants also showed reduced frontal (anterior) interhemispheric coherence. These differences in brain circuitry remained statistically significant even after controlling for group differences in pubertal status and socioeconomic status. Measures of functional brain connectivity were associated with several subtypes of abuse and neglect. It was important that atypical left hemisphere EEG coherence mediated the effects of child maltreatment on levels of psychiatric impairment. The findings are discussed in the context of models linking early adversity to brain function and psychopathology.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Louis A. Schmidt, Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University, Hamilton, ONT L8S 4K1, Canada; E-mail:


This research was supported by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (to L.S.); a Vanier doctoral scholarship from NSERC under the direction of Louis Schmidt (to V.M.); and a New Investigator Award from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, a Faculty Scholar Award from the William T. Grant Foundation, and the Wyeth Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Clinical Research Chair in Women's Mental Health (to H.M). Further support was provided by the CIHR Institutes of Gender and Health; Aging; Human Development, Child and Youth Health; Neurosciences; Mental Health and Addiction; and Population and Public Health and the Johnson Foundation. We thank the participants for their cooperation and Lindsay Bennett, Sylvia Nowakowski, Caroline Parkin, Diane Santesso, Masako Tanaka, and Emily Vella for their help with data collection and data entry. We are also grateful to the research assistants and nurses who assisted with this project as well as the comments of Karen Mathewson and three anonymous reviewers.