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Perinatal Programming of Brain and Behavior by Early Life Adversity: from Bench to Bedside

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The perinatal period is a highly sensitive period for the development of the brain. Various lines of research suggest that adverse experiences during this period determine cognitive function and emotional regulation later in life and increase the risk to develop psychiatric diseases such as depression and ...

The perinatal period is a highly sensitive period for the development of the brain. Various lines of research suggest that adverse experiences during this period determine cognitive function and emotional regulation later in life and increase the risk to develop psychiatric diseases such as depression and anxiety disorders. Animal models of early life stress employing fragmented maternal care or individual variations in maternal care have proved highly successful in reproducing the lifelong phenotypes of susceptibility/resilience against sensitivity to stress, cognitive decline and diseases such as depression and anxiety. These studies reveal that early life adversity regulates the sensitivity of the stress-system and action of stress-hormones and neurotransmitters via epigenetic regulation as well as the connectivity between brain areas which are fundamental for cognitive and emotional regulation. Some of these effects of early life adversity can even be transmitted over generations.

In this special issue we will address the mechanisms via which adverse experiences during the perinatal period determine brain development, brain function and cognitive and emotional processes later in life. The contributions will range from animal experimental research to studies in humans and address pre- and postnatal experiences.

This will provide a timely overview of how early life adversity regulate the action of stress-hormones such as glucocorticoid hormones, corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH); how the sensitivity of the brain for these hormones is determined; via which mechanisms perinatal experiences moderate cognitive and emotional regulation as well as depressive-like behaviour later in life; how transgenerational effects are transmitted. While these studies will largely cover fundamental (animal experimental) studies, this issue also aims to provide a state-of-the art overview of how early life experiences in humans affect brain development; neuronal connectivity, emotional regulation and the risk to develop diseases such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.


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