We describe a mature multi-site IDSC, "Early Experiences, Stress, and Neurodevelopment" focused on understanding the impacts of early life stress (ELS). We use ELS as a framework to encompass adverse early care conditions: separation/loss, neglect, abuse. We integrate basic developmental behavioral neuroscience using various models to a) increase understanding of the behavioral and neurobiological impacts of ELS, b) identify care experiences that support recovery, and c) approach these questions guided by preventive intervention researchers so that future interventions can benefit from this more comprehensive knowledge base. In 3 projects we test the hypothesis that adverse conditions of early caregiving result in chronic activation of neurohormonal stress systems, shapes more reactive threat response system functioning, and impacts the development of cortico-limbic attention- and emotion regulatory systems. These neural systems are plastic during early life;improved care can normalize their functioning. However, because young children exposed to these ELS conditions often confront caregivers with disordered attachment behaviors &disruptive behavior problems, therapeutic parenting must provide nurturance the child needs but may not signal, and reduce behavior problems through firm, non-hostile, structure/limit-setting. Even so, children exposed to the most severe, prolonged ELS may sustain neurodevelopmental vulnerabilities that increase risk of pathology long after care conditions improve. Our projects involve (1) young children in domestic foster care (2) those adopted from orphanages overseas, as well as (3) another model that allows random assignment to maltreating care and tracking of neurodevelopmental impacts in ways not feasible with young children. The work is supported by 5 Cores: Administrative, Behavioral Coding, Neuropsychological/ Electrophysiological, Data Management, and Assay. We use behavioral observations, electrophysiology (EEG, ERPs, EMG, ECG), neuroendocrine activity (HPA axis) under basal conditions and in response to psychological &pharmacological challenges, in vivo neuroimaging (MRI, DTI, MRS), and neurobehavioral tasks of amygdala (fear-potentiated startle) &prefrontal functioning. Our Center also includes a cross-training program in basic developmental science and developmental psychopathology &prevention science.

Public Health Relevance

Children who experience early adversity are at significant risk for emotional and cognitive problems. We integrate work on toddlers in foster care, toddlers adopted from orphanages, and Rhesus infants abused by their mothers to understand how these experiences affect the development of brain systems involved in emotion and attention. We also focus on types of parenting that helps neurobehavioral recovery.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Specialized Center (P50)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZMH1-ERB-L (04))
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Zehr, Julia L
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University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Schools of Education
United States
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Hostinar, Camelia E; Johnson, Anna E; Gunnar, Megan R (2015) Parent support is less effective in buffering cortisol stress reactivity for adolescents compared to children. Dev Sci 18:281-97
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