History of childhood adversity is positively associated with ventral striatal dopamine responses to amphetamine

Lynn M. Oswald, Gary S. Wand, Hiroto Kuwabara, Dean F. Wong, Shijun Zhu, James R. Brasic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Rationale: Childhood exposure to severe or chronic trauma is an important risk factor for the later development of adult mental health problems, such as substance abuse. Even in nonclinical samples of healthy adults, persons with a history of significant childhood adversity seem to experience greater psychological distress than those without this history. Evidence from rodent studies suggests that early life stress may impair dopamine function in ways that increase risks for drug abuse. However, the degree to which these findings translate to other species remains unclear. Objectives: This study was conducted to examine associations between childhood adversity and dopamine and subjective responses to amphetamine in humans. Methods: Following intake assessment, 28 healthy male and female adults, aged 18-29 years, underwent two consecutive 90-min positron emission tomography studies with high specific activity [ 11C]raclopride. The first scan was preceded by intravenous saline; the second by amphetamine (AMPH 0.3 mg/kg). Results: Consistent with prior literature, findings showed positive associations between childhood trauma and current levels of perceived stress. Moreover, greater number of traumatic events and higher levels of perceived stress were each associated with higher ventral striatal dopamine responses to AMPH. Findings of mediation analyses further showed that a portion of the relationship between childhood trauma and dopamine release may be mediated by perceived stress. Conclusions: Overall, results are consistent with preclinical findings suggesting that early trauma may lead to enhanced sensitivity to psychostimulants and that this mechanism may underlie increased vulnerability for drug abuse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2417-2433
Number of pages17
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Amphetamine
  • Childhood adversity
  • Dopamine
  • Human
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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