Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Rhythmicity is a fundamental property of neural activity at multiple spatiotemporal scales, and associated oscillations represent a critical mechanism for communication and transmission of information across brain regions. During development, these oscillations evolve dynamically as a function of neural maturation and may be modulated by early experiences, positive and/or negative. This study investigated the impact of psychosocial deprivation associated with institutional rearing in early life and the effects of subsequent foster care intervention on developmental trajectories of neural oscillations and their cross-frequency correlations. Longitudinally acquired nontask EEGs from three cohorts of children from the Bucharest Early Intervention Project were analyzed. These included abandoned children initially reared in institutions and subsequently randomized to be placed in foster care or receive care as usual (prolonged institutional rearing) and a group of never-institutionalized children. Oscillation trajectories were estimated from 42 to 96 months, that is, 1–3 years after all children in the intervention arm of the study had been placed in foster care. Significant differences between groups were estimated for the amplitude trajectories of cognitive-related gamma, beta, alpha, and theta oscillations. Similar differences were identified as a function of time spent in institutions, suggesting that increased time spent in psychosocial neglect may have profound and widespread effects on brain activity. Significant group differences in cross-frequency coupling were estimated longitudinally between gamma and lower frequencies as well as alpha and lower frequencies. Lower cross-gamma coupling was estimated at 96 months in the group of children that remained in institutions at that age compared to the other two groups, suggesting potentially impaired communication between local and long-distance brain networks in these children. In contrast, higher cross-alpha coupling was estimated in this group compared to the other two groups at 96 months, suggesting impaired suppression of alpha–theta and alpha–delta activity, which has been associated with neuropsychiatric disorders. Age at foster care placement had a significant positive modulatory effect on alpha and beta trajectories and their mutual coupling, although by 96 months these trajectories remained distinct from those of never-institutionalized children. Overall, these findings suggest that early psychosocial neglect may profoundly impact neural maturation, particularly the evolution of neural oscillations and their interactions across a broad frequency range. These differences may result in widespread deficits across multiple cognitive domains.