The primary aim of this proposal is to investigate the normative development of the neurobiology that results in mental illness associated with emotional difficulties including high reactivity and poor regulation. Such illnesses include, but are not limited to, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, sociopathy, and personality disorders. A failure to effectively recruit a neural circuitry that includes the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex has been implicated in these mental illnesses in adults. The present research strategy, which uses structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and behavioral measures, will employ a prospective and longitudinal design that identifies biomarkers associated with these difficulties and map their development as children age into adolescence.
The second aim i s to examine the influence of early adverse caregiving environments on the development of this neurobiology. For long, it has been recognized that environmental stress is associated with a disproportionately high of risk emotional psychopathology. A large animal literature combined with an emerging human neuroimaging literature shows that environmental stress can impair mental health functioning via disruption of the amygdala and the regulatory processes that depend on proper connectivity between amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. When stress exposure occurs prior to developmental maturity, the effects can be more potent and its impact longer lasting than stress that occurs in adulthood. Therefore, the findings of this project will have a high impact on the field of mental health by identifying biomarkers associated with emotional difficulties prior to their behavioral onset. In this way, we will be better at predicting and preventing the development of mental illnesses that often emerge during the adolescent period.

Public Health Relevance

This project will examine the development of a specific neurobiology that is associated with emotional difficulties such as high reactivity and poor regulation. In addition to mapping out the typical development of this biology, this project will examine the role that adverse early caregiving has on its development. This research is important because identification of biomarkers during development before they emerge into problem behaviors in adulthood will help in the prevention of mental illnesses associated with emotional difficulties.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZMH1-ERB-L (04))
Program Officer
Zehr, Julia L
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University of California Los Angeles
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Los Angeles
United States
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Gabard-Durnam, Laurel J; Flannery, Jessica; Goff, Bonnie et al. (2014) The development of human amygdala functional connectivity at rest from 4 to 23 years: a cross-sectional study. Neuroimage 95:193-207
Gee, Dylan G; Gabard-Durnam, Laurel; Telzer, Eva H et al. (2014) Maternal buffering of human amygdala-prefrontal circuitry during childhood but not during adolescence. Psychol Sci 25:2067-78
Tottenham, Nim (2014) The importance of early experiences for neuro-affective development. Curr Top Behav Neurosci 16:109-29
Humphreys, Kathryn L; Lee, Steve S; Tottenham, Nim (2013) Not all risk taking behavior is bad: Associative sensitivity predicts learning during risk taking among high sensation seekers. Pers Individ Dif 54:709-715
Gee, Dylan G; Gabard-Durnam, Laurel J; Flannery, Jessica et al. (2013) Early developmental emergence of human amygdala-prefrontal connectivity after maternal deprivation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 110:15638-43
Telzer, Eva H; Flannery, Jessica; Shapiro, Mor et al. (2013) Early experience shapes amygdala sensitivity to race: an international adoption design. J Neurosci 33:13484-8
Tottenham, Nim; Phuong, Jessica; Flannery, Jessica et al. (2013) A negativity bias for ambiguous facial-expression valence during childhood: converging evidence from behavior and facial corrugator muscle responses. Emotion 13:92-103
Olsavsky, Aviva K; Telzer, Eva H; Shapiro, Mor et al. (2013) Indiscriminate amygdala response to mothers and strangers after early maternal deprivation. Biol Psychiatry 74:853-60
Gee, Dylan G; Humphreys, Kathryn L; Flannery, Jessica et al. (2013) A developmental shift from positive to negative connectivity in human amygdala-prefrontal circuitry. J Neurosci 33:4584-93
Telzer, Eva H; Humphreys, Kathryn L; Shapiro, Mor et al. (2013) Amygdala sensitivity to race is not present in childhood but emerges over adolescence. J Cogn Neurosci 25:234-44

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