Examining the Effect of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on Executive Functioning and Brain Plasticity
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are exposures to experiences such as maltreatment, household dysfunction, and other traumatic or stressful events occurring in the first 18 years of life. Exposure to ACEs in childhood, a critical time for development, have been found to have enduring, negative effects on physical and mental health across the life course. Specifically, ACEs may influence the neurotransmitter systems in the brain and alter brain function leading to behaviour changes that can be observed in adulthood. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a brain plasticity factor involved in creating and maintaining connections and pathways in the brain. Pathways that utilize executive function (EF), higher order cognitive responses, may be influenced by exposure to ACEs. The purpose of the current study was to examine the relationship between ACEs and EF and to examine whether BDNF helped to explain that relationship. The current study conducted a cross-sectional analysis that used data from the Niagara Longitudinal Heart Study which was a follow up study conducted out of Brock University. The final sample size for the current analysis was n=236. Retrospective reporting of ACEs was collected using the Childhood Trust Events Survey. The Behaviour Rating Inventory of Executive Function Adult Version (BRIEF-A) was used to measure everyday EF and included the Inhibit and the Working Memory clinical measures and three composite measures, the Behaviour Regulation Index, Metacognition Index, and the Global Executive Composite. Finally, serum BDNF was used as a measure of current plasticity. The relationship between ACEs and BDNF was non-significant and therefore no indirect effects were explored. There was a significant relationship between accumulation of ACEs and all EF measures, and this effect was similar across males and females. The current study adds to the literature finding that accumulation of ACEs was associated with low EF clinical and composite scores in young adulthood.