Research

Early life stress reprogramming

Early life environmental factors affect developing systems and may permanently alter organ structure and function throughout life. This process with its persistent organizational effects has been called ‘developmental programming’. The central and peripheral organs that play pivotal roles in the body’s stress response and the maintenance of homeostasis are key targets for such effects. The biological response to stress requires numerous adaptive responses involving changes in the central nervous and neuroendocrine systems. When a situation is perceived as stressful, the brain activates many neuronal circuits linking centers involved in sensory, motor, autonomic, metabolic, cognitive, and emotional functions in order to adapt to the demand. It is clear that dysregulation of these physiological responses to stress can have severe psychological and physiological consequences. Indeed, there is much evidence to suggest that early life stress is linked to the etiology and pathophysiology of anxiety disorders, depression and cognitive dysfunction in later adulthood. For instance lower birth weight (but still within the normal range) associates with a 2-3-fold increase in the prevalence of depressive illnesses both in later childhood and adult life. Nevertheless, the details of the pathways by which the ‘programmed’ brain translates stressful stimuli into the final, integrated biological response are incompletely understood.
Understanding brain ‘programming’ by focusing on the brain circuits and genes which are associated with, or altered by, prenatal stress will provide important insights into the brain mechanisms by which early life stress affects psychological and neuroendocrine disorders and may improve our ability to design therapeutic interventions for, and thus manage, stress-related disorders.

Relevant Publications

Volk N, Pape J.C, Engel M, Zannas A.S, Cattane N, Cattaneo A, Binder E.B, Chen A (2016). Amygdalar Microrna-15a is Essential For Coping With Chronic Stress.  Cell Reports. 17: :1882–91.
Amitai, M., Taler, M., Carmel, M., Michaelovsky, E., Eilat, T., Yablonski, M., Orpaz, N., Chen, A., Apter, A., Weizman, A., Fennig, S. (2016). The Relationship Between Plasma Cytokine Levels and Response to Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor Treatment in Children and Adolescents With Depression And/or Anxiety Disorders.  J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 26. .