The past three decades have witnessed an explosion of interest in the long-term consequences of childhood maltreatment (CM) and its association with the socioemotional adjustment of survivors and their children. Prior research links CM history with numerous domains of adult interpersonal functioning, including increased risk for depression, anxiety, and problems in the parental role. Despite the growing interest reflected in the literature, there is still much we do not know or understand about the mechanisms by which CM may be related to depression, anxiety, and parenting difficulties among women with abuse histories, nor the physiological pathways that may underpin these associations. The proposed study aims to identify the biological mechanisms by which CM may be related to increased vulnerability to mood disorders, such as depression, as well as less sensitive and more intrusive parenting behaviors for women with abuse histories. We will recruit seventy first time mothers and their 6-month old infants, half with self-reported maltreatment history and half without. Mothers will participate in laboratory assessments to characterize their physiologic stress response phenotype using a standardized social stress test to elicit hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) and sympathetic nervous system (SNS) reactivity. Additionally, a ten minute parent-child free play interaction in the home will be video-recorded and coded for sensitive and intrusive parenting behavior. Given the pervasive effects of CM across multiple domains of functioning, this study will make a significant contribution to the literature by identifying salient intermediate psychobiological variables that mediate the relationship between CM and adult well-being and parenting behavior. My training plan has been crafted to provide me with the essential components to successfully implement this study and prepare me to be an independent investigator and to build a research portfolio that will incorporate stress biomarkers to the study of parenting behaviors of mothers with maltreatment histories. The first is to develop a knowledge base of the stress-responsive neuroendocrine axes (HPA and SNS) in order to investigate their dysregulation in women with a history of CM. The second goal is to expand my knowledge of the epidemiology and sequela of CM to better understand how maltreatment may impact the wellbeing of multiple generations. The third goal is to develop the skills, expertise, and training that will facilitate my successful transition from a mentored investigator into a fully independent research scientist capable of securing R01 funding. The training articulated in this proposal including the timing, collection and analyses of stress-induced neuroendocrine data, gaining proficiency in mediational analysis using biomarker data, and grant writing, will provide the skills to conduct high impact research identifying critical points of early intervention and, thus, improve prevention efforts aimed at reducing the lifelong burden of CM.

Public Health Relevance

Relevance to Public Health Approximately 30% of children in the US experience some form of maltreatment, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Many women maltreated in childhood report problems in the parenting role. By identify the biological and behavioral mechanisms by which childhood maltreatment may be related to increased vulnerability to poor parenting behaviors for women with abuse histories, we may provide critical evidence for developing interventions that mitigate adverse outcomes before they become long-term problems.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Scientist Development Award - Research & Training (K01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Biobehavioral Mechanisms of Emotion, Stress and Health Study Section (MESH)
Program Officer
Maholmes, Valerie
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Public Health & Prev Medicine
Schools of Public Health
Chapel Hill
United States
Zip Code