Is there a link between child abuse and neglect and anxiety disorders?

G. Perna, A. Alciati, D. Prestia, T. Torti, C. B. Nemeroff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


A link between childhood maltreatment and mental disorders is firmly established. Although the link between depression and childhood maltreatment is well established, the same cannot be said for the anxiety disorders. The plausibility of this latter relationship relies, in part, on the evidence of a crucial involvement of hypothalamic-pituitary-axis (HPA) in the mammalian organism's responses to threats, that is likely to contribute to the brain mechanisms underlying anxiety disorders. Studies on adverse childhood experiences (ACE) suggest that persistent changes occur in the function, structure and epigenetics of the HPA axis after early life stress. To date few studies have assessed this relationship, most focusing on post-traumatic stress disorder, but most of them reported a positive association between childhood maltreatment and anxiety disorders in adulthood. The effects of childhood maltreatment on the development of anxiety disorders is not likely specific but depends on genetic vulnerability and resilience, timing and type of the maltreatment and other environmental and biological factors. Imaging genomic studies will help elucidate the relationship between genetic vulnerability and the observed alterations in activity of cortical brain circuits. Most importantly this will likely lead to development of predictors of treatment response that will allow for matching each anxiety disorder patient with optimal pharmacotherapeutic and psychotherapeutic treatments, a major goal in the new personalized medicine era.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)137-148
Number of pages12
JournalMinerva Psichiatrica
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2013


  • Anxiety disorders
  • Child abuse
  • Glucocorticoids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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