This is a revised application for a Conte Center addressing the complex developmental mechanisms contributing to adolescent vulnerabilities to mental illnesses. These are generally believed to arise from an interaction of genetic and environmental influences during sensitive developmental epochs, yet there are major gaps in our knowledge regarding the nature of these signals, and the mechanisms by which they promote disease. The innovative unifying hypothesis guiding this revised application is that disturbed patterns of maternal signals early in life, especially their fragmentation and unpredictability, contribute greatly to adolescent emotional and cognitive vulnerabilities. Guided by constructive suggestions of the original Reviewers, strong preliminary data now support this hypothesis. The overarching goal of the proposed Center is to execute a multi-dimensional and integrated plan that brings this exceedingly important clinical problem into both animal and human research laboratories. Capitalizing on their complementary strengths and employing cross-species platforms and sophisticated coordinated analytical methods, the Center aims to translate the resulting discoveries into clinically significant predictive models. The Centers approach benefits from a unique resource, a large well-characterized human cohort, to perform longitudinal and cross-sectional studies from fetal life to adolescence. Center research will focus on advanced structural and functional brain imaging in this cohort and in cognate animal models, combined with state-of-the-art molecular approaches to gene regulation in time and space. Center Aims will (1) characterize patterns of pre- and postnatal maternal signals that influence adolescent vulnerabilities across species, using conventional and innovative methods, and generate trajectories of altered behaviors in infancy, childhood and adolescence; (2) address the potential underlying mechanisms using common platforms in human and rodents, including structural and functional imaging, and mechanistic studies in rodents; 3) through a strong Statistics / Computational approach, combine behavioral and imaging outcomes along time to generate potentially predictive models for adolescent behaviors that augur pathology. The Center's significance derives from addressing crucial clinical questions via robust, cross-species multidisciplinary, state-of-the-art approaches. The Center tests a highly innovative hypothesis that builds on and provides a theoretical unifying framework for a large existing human and experimental literature. Major assets of the Center approach include a large longitudinal human cohort, predictive animal models, common methodological platforms across species, strong preliminary data, improved integration of Projects' design and data flow and rigorous and innovative analyses of the large and interdependent data sets and their integration into predictive models. Thus, the impact of the information generated by the Center will be substantial, aiming to transform our understanding of how early life environment contributes to disorders that affect 20% of adolescents.
Emotional problems affect millions of Americans, and often start in adolescence. While we know that early-life events might contribute to the emergence of these problems, we know little about the mechanisms. A group of Scientists with diverse expertise combine to ask if signals from the mother before and after birth are important in creating vulnerabilities to emotional and cognitive problems, using animal models and brain scans to uncover the mechanisms.
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