Unresolved–Disorganized Attachment is Associated With Smaller Hippocampus and Increased Functional Connectivity Beyond Psychopathology

Marie José van Hoof, Madelon Riem, Amy Garrett, Nienke Pannekoek, Nic van der Wee, Marinus van IJzendoorn, Robert Vermeiren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Loss and abuse in children can lead to unresolved–disorganized (UD) attachment. How this condition relates to brain structure and functional connectivity (FC) is unknown. We therefore aimed to investigate gray matter volume (GMV) and resting state functional connectivity (RSFC) correlates of UD attachment in adolescents. Based on previous neuroimaging studies of trauma effects, we hypothesized that the structure of the amygdala and hippocampus and the FC of the latter would be linked to UD attachment. Anatomical and RSFC data were collected from a mixed group of adolescents (N = 74) with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to childhood sexual abuse (CSA), anxiety/depressive symptoms, and without psychiatric disorder as part of the Emotional Pathways’ Imaging Study in Clinical Adolescents (EPISCA). Bilateral volumes of the amygdala and hippocampus were measured using the FMRIB Software Library, and RSFC of the hippocampus was assessed using seed-based correlation. UD attachment was measured using the Adult Attachment Interview. Hierarchical regression and correlation were used to assess the associations between UD status (continuous and categorical), brain structure, and FC, adjusting for a general psychopathology factor, puberty stage, gender, age, and IQ. UD attachment was associated with a smaller left hippocampal volume, R2 =.23, and a higher level of FC between the hippocampus and the middle temporal gyrus and lateral occipital cortex. The associations among UD attachment, specific brain structure, and FC across psychopathological classifications shows promise for dimensional complements to the dominant classificatory approach in clinical research and practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)742-752
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Traumatic Stress
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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