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The Effects of Prenatal Exposure to Neighborhood Crime on Neonatal Functional Connectivity

      Abstract

      Background

      Maternal exposure to adversity during pregnancy has been found to affect infant brain development; however, the specific effect of prenatal crime exposure on neonatal brain connectivity remains unclear. Based on existing research, we hypothesized that living in a high-crime neighborhood during pregnancy would affect neonatal frontolimbic connectivity over and above other individual- and neighborhood-level adversity and that these associations would be mediated by maternal psychosocial stress.

      Methods

      Participants included 399 pregnant women, recruited as part of the eLABE (Early Life Adversity, Biological Embedding, and Risk for Developmental Precursors of Mental Disorders) study. In the neonatal period, 319 healthy, nonsedated infants were scanned using resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (repetition time = 800 ms; echo time = 37 ms; voxel size = 2.0 × 2.0 × 2.0 mm3; multiband = 8) on a Prisma 3T scanner and had at least 10 minutes of high-quality data. Crime data at the block group level were obtained from Applied Geographic Solution. Linear regressions and mediation models tested associations between crime, frontolimbic connectivity, and psychosocial stress.

      Results

      Living in a neighborhood with high property crime during pregnancy was related to weaker neonatal functional connectivity between the thalamus–anterior default mode network (aDMN) (β = −0.15, 95% CI = −0.25 to −0.04, p = .008). Similarly, high neighborhood violent crime was related to weaker functional connectivity between the thalamus-aDMN (β = −0.16, 95% CI = −0.29 to −0.04, p = .01) and amygdala-hippocampus (β = −0.16, 95% CI = −0.29 to −0.03, p = .02), controlling for other types of adversity. Psychosocial stress partially mediated relationships between the thalamus-aDMN and both violent and property crime.

      Conclusions

      These findings suggest that prenatal exposure to crime is associated with weaker neonatal limbic and frontal functional brain connections, providing another reason for targeted public policy interventions to reduce crime.

      Keywords

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      Linked Article

      • Reconceptualizing Prenatal Stress as a Multilevel Phenomenon Will Reduce Health Disparities
        Biological PsychiatryVol. 92Issue 2
        • Preview
          Our understanding of the developmental origins of disease, or fetal programming, has blossomed over the past 3 decades (1). One major contribution to our understanding of fetal programming has been the ability to noninvasively examine neural development during the earliest stages of infancy and even in utero using functional magnetic resonance imaging. The results from this functional magnetic resonance imaging work support preclinical findings that isolate gestation as a time when maternal stress, depression, and anxiety yield powerful intergenerational impacts on the developing functional connectome (2).
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