Analyzing pathways from childhood maltreatment to internalizing symptoms and disorders in children and adolescents (AMIS): A study protocol.


Background: Effective interventions for maltreated children are impeded by gaps in our knowledge of the etiopathogenic mechanisms leading from maltreatment to mental disorders. Although some studies have already identified individual risk factors, there is a lack of large-scale multilevel research on how psychosocial, neurobiological, and genetic factors act in concert to modulate risk of internalizing psychopathology in childhood following maltreatment. To help close this gap, we aim to delineate gender-specific pathways from maltreatment to psychological disorder/resilience. To this end, we examine the interplay of specific maltreatment characteristics and psychological, endocrine, metabolomic, and (epi-)genomic stress response patterns as well as cognitive-emotional/social processes as determinants of developmental outcome. Specifically, we will explore endocrine, metabolomic, and epigenetic mechanisms leading from maltreatment to a higher risk of depression and anxiety disorders. Methods/design: Four large samples amounting to a total of N = 920 children aged 4-16 years will be assessed: Two cohorts with prior internalizing psychopathology and controls will be checked for maltreatment and two cohorts with substantiated maltreatment will be checked for internalizing (and externalizing) psychopathology. We will apply a multi-source (interview, questionnaires, official records), multi-informant strategy (parents, children, teachers) to assess maltreatment characteristics (e.g., subtypes, developmental timing, chronicity) and psychopathological symptoms, supplemented with multiple measurements of risk and protective factors and cutting-edge laboratory analyses of endocrine, steroid metabolomic and epigenetic factors. As previous assessments in the two largest samples are already available, longitudinal data will be generated within the three year study period. Discussion: Our results will lay the empirical foundation for (a) detection of early biopsychosocial markers, (b) development of screening measures, and (c) multisystem-oriented interventions in the wake of maltreatment.