The sexually dimorphic impact of maltreatment on cortical thickness, surface area and gyrification.


An extensive literature has detailed how maltreatment experience impacts brain structure in children and adolescents. However, there is a dearth of studies on the influence of maltreatment on surface based indices, and to date no study has investigated how sex influences the impact of maltreatment on cortical thickness, surface area and local gyrification. We investigated sex differences in these measures of cortical structure in a large community sample of children aged 10-14 years (n = 122) comprising 62 children with verified maltreatment experience and 60 matched non-maltreated controls. The maltreated group relative to the controls presented with a pattern of decreased cortical thickness within a region of right anterior cingulate, orbitofrontal cortex and superior frontal gyrus; decreased surface area within the right inferior parietal cortex; and increased local gyrification within left superior parietal cortex. This atypical pattern of cortical structure was similar across males and females. An interaction between maltreatment exposure and sex was found only in local gyrification, within two clusters: the right tempo-parietal junction and the left precentral gyrus. These findings suggest that maltreatment impacts cortical structure in brain areas associated with emotional regulation and theory of mind, with few differences between the sexes.