White Matter Microstructure in the Young Adult Brain Varies with Neighborhood Disadvantage in Adolescence

Academic Article


  • Neighborhood disadvantage and community violence are common in poor, urban communities and are risk factors for emotional dysfunction. Emotional processes are supported by neural circuitry that includes the prefrontal cortex (PFC), hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus. These brain regions are connected by white matter pathways that include the cingulum bundle, uncinate fasciculus, stria terminalis, and fornix. Emotional function varies with the microstructure of these white matter pathways. However, it is not clear whether the microstructure of these pathways varies with risk factors for emotional dysfunction (e.g., neighborhood disadvantage and violence exposure). Therefore, determining the relationships between neighborhood disadvantage, violence exposure, and white matter microstructure may offer insight into the neural mechanisms by which adverse life experiences alter developing neural systems. The current study investigated the association that exposure to neighborhood disadvantage and violence have with the quantitative anisotropy (QA), a measure of the amount of directional water diffusion, of the cingulum bundle, uncinate fasciculus, stria terminalis, and fornix. Neighborhood disadvantage (Mage = 11.20) and violence exposure (MW1age = 11.20; MW2age = 13.05; MW3age = 16.20; MW4age = 19.25) were assessed during adolescence and participants returned for magnetic resonance imaging as young adults (N = 303; Mage = 20.25, SD = 1.55), during which diffusion weighted brain images were collected. The QA of the cingulum bundle, uncinate fasciculus, and stria terminalis/fornix varied negatively with neighborhood disadvantage such that the QA of these white matter tracts decreased as neighborhood disadvantage increased. Violence exposure was not related to QA in any tract (i.e., cingulum bundle, uncinate fasciculus, and stria terminalis/fornix) after correction for multiple comparisons. These results suggest that an adolescent's neighborhood may play an important role in the microstructure (i.e., QA) of white matter pathways that connect brain regions that support emotional function.
  • Published In

  • Neuroscience  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Bell KL; Purcell JB; Harnett NG; Goodman AM; Mrug S; Schuster MA; Elliott MN; Emery ST; Knight DC
  • Start Page

  • 162
  • End Page

  • 172
  • Volume

  • 466