The Link Between Childhood Adversity and Cardiovascular Disease Risk: Role of Cerebral and Systemic Vasculature

Paula Rodriguez-Miguelez, Jacob Looney, Marsha Blackburn, Jeffrey Thomas, Jennifer S. Pollock, Ryan A. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events during the first years of life that are associated with a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) during adulthood. The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is a core region in the brain that modulates emotions and is directly involved in the cardiovascular response to stress by increasing vascular resistance. In the present study we examined the relationship between ACEs, mPFC and peripheral vascular function. Forty-five, adults (33±5 yrs.) participated in the present study to evaluate cerebral hemodynamics and peripheral vascular function. The impact of adverse experiences was evaluated through the ACE questionnaire. Among those that experienced ACEs (ACE group, n = 22), there was a significantly (P < 0.001) reduced activation of the mPFC as well as greater peripheral vascular resistance observed in the small (P ≤ 0.035), conduit (P ≤ 0.042) and large (P ≤ 0.001) blood vessels, when compared to those that did not report ACEs (Control group, n = 23). In addition, relationships between the number of ACEs and mPFC activation (rs = -0.428; P = 0.003) and peripheral vascular function (rs≤ -0.373; P ≤ 0.009) were observed. Findings from the present study support that adults who experienced ACEs exhibit a reduced activation of the mPFC along with systemic vascular dysfunction. In addition, individuals exposed to more childhood traumatic events exhibited a progressively greater inactivation of the mPFC and an increased peripheral vasoconstriction in a dose-dependent manner. These findings provide novel insights into the potential role that the brain and the peripheral vasculature may have in connecting adverse childhood events to the increased risk of CVD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberzqac029
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022


  • adverse childhood event
  • cardiovacular
  • cerebral blood flow
  • nitric oxide
  • vascular function

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Cell Biology
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Physiology


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