Exposure to early life adversity is a risk factor for cognitive dysfunction and psychopathology. The revised Project 3 is informed by discoveries of Project 1 that, in rodents, early-life fragmented patterns of maternal care provokes emotional and cognitive vulnerabilities in adolescence. The Project will test specific hypotheses about how prenatal and early postnatal maternal signals interact to influence the risk for cognitive and emotional vulnerabilities. The long term consequences of exposure to fragmented /unpredictable maternal signals during the fetal and infant periods will be tested with a prospective longitudinal investigation of two cohorts followed from early in gestation and assessed during infancy/toddlerhood (new cohort;N=200) and childhood/adolescence (existing cohort;N=150). Maternal behavior will be observed in real time in the context of interactions with her child and subjected to both linear and nonlinear analyses for the characterization of fragmentation and unpredictability. Child and adolescent behaviors will be evaluated using standardized laboratory measures of indicative of prodromal risk for mental illness. Project 3 will interact closely with Project 2 to create trajectories of emotional and cognitive vulnerabilities. With Project 4 behavioral and imaging tasks will be integrated to construct a matrix of behavioral and brain-network profiles. We will determine: 1) Whether early life exposure to fragmented and unpredictable maternal signals is associated with cognitive and emotional vulnerabilities;2) The joint role of the prenatal and early postnatal environments for determining later mental health (with Project 2);3) Whether sex differences in responses to fragmented/unpredictable maternal care contribute to sex specific vulnerabilities to psychiatric disorders;and 4) Consequences of early life exposure to fragmented/unpredictable maternal care (both pre and postnatal) for the structure and network-function of specific brain regions (with Project 4). This project comprises a unique opportunity to investigate the early origins of mental illness. The joint consideration of both fetal and infant periods will lead to a different and broader understanding of the role that early experiences play in determining cognitive and emotional vulnerabilities in contrast to the evaluation of either of these periods in isolation. Further, the coordination between Project 3 and the other projects in this Center will provide new insight into the mechanisms by which early experiences exert lasting effects on cognitive and emotional vulnerabilities.

Public Health Relevance

One out of 17 Americans will suffer from a severe mental illness during their lifetime. The origins of mental illness predominantly begin early in life. Project 3, in close collaboration with the other three projects in this Center proposes to prospectively examine pre and postnatal influences on cognitive, behavioral and emotional vulnerabilities contributing to mental illness.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Specialized Center (P50)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZMH1-ERB-L (02))
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University of California Irvine
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