A team of Psychiatric Research Institute researchers is recruiting girls ages 11-17 for a study of how child abuse can change brain function and increase the likelihood of adults developing mental health disorders.

The study, at the Brain Imaging Research Center, is hoping to uncover the effects early life trauma can have on the brain. It will involve participants undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they perform different decision-making tasks. To learn more about how to participate, call (501) 526-4880.

The researchers will enroll approximately 240 girls over the next three years. The team is recruiting adolescent girls who have been the victims of physical or sexual abuse or who have used drugs or alcohol, as well as adolescent girls with no history of trauma, drug abuse or mental health disorders to serve as a control group. The girls and their caregivers will be paid for their participation, and will also receive compensation for travel costs and parking.

“We are expecting to find widespread changes in how brain networks mature, and how different brain regions communicate in adolescent girls who have been abused compared to girls who have not,” said Joshua Cisler, Ph.D., one of the studies’ principal investigators. “We’ll also be comparing brain networks among girls who have developed drug use problems or post-traumatic stress disorder following abuse to girls who did not develop these problems following abuse.”

In 2013, there were 10,370 substantiated cases of child abuse in Arkansas, or 14.6 victims per 1,000 children, with many more going unreported. The national average is 9.1 victims per 1,000 children, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Research has shown that children and adolescents exposed to abuse or neglect are significantly more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder and problems with drug and alcohol use.

By identifying the specific brain responses to trauma that puts some children at risk for these later problems, the researchers are hoping to create methods to prevent children who have been abused from developing mental health disorders.

The research studies are funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Mental Health and the Brain and Behavior Foundation.