Early life adversity (ELA) in childhood is a major risk factor for borderline intellectual functioning (BIF). BIF affects both adaptive and intellectual abilities, commonly leading to school failure and to an increased risk to develop mental and social problems in the adulthood. This study aimed to investigate the neurobiological underpinnings of ELA associated with BIF in terms of global topological organization and structural connectivity and their relation with intellectual functioning. BIF (N=32) and age-matched typical development (TD, N=14) children were evaluated for intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioral competencies, and ELA. Children underwent an anatomical and diffusion-weighted MR imaging (DWI) protocol. Global brain topological organization was assessed measuring segregation and integration indexes. Moreover, structural matrices, measuring normalized number of fibers (NFn), were compared between the 2 groups using network-based statistics. Finally, a linear regression model was used to explore the relationship between network parameters and clinical measures. Results showed increased behavioral difficulties and ELA, together with decreased network integration in BIF children. Moreover, significantly lower NFn was observed in the BIF group (p=.039) in a sub-network comprising anterior and posterior cingulate, the pericallosal sulcus, the orbital frontal areas, amygdala, basal ganglia, the accumbens nucleus, and the hippocampus. Linear regression showed that NFn significantly predicted IQ (p<.0001). This study demonstrated that ELA in children with BIF is associated with a decreased information integration at the global level, and with an altered structural connectivity within the limbic system strictly related to the intellectual functioning.
- borderline intellectual functioning
- early life adversity
- graph analysis
- limbic system