Early life influences risk for psychiatric disorders

Aug 18, 2010

For more than a century, clinical investigators have focused on early life as a source of adult psychopathology. Although the hypothesized mechanisms have evolved, a central notion remains: early life is a period of unique sensitivity during which experience confers enduring effects.

Neurodevelopmental disorders, which include mood disorders, schizophrenia, autism and eating disorders, have been associated with fetal antecedents such as maternal stress or infection and malnutrition. Sex is another factor that influences the risk for through poorly understood mechanisms.

We know little as to how the maternal environment alters offspring programming. Epigenetics, an area of research that is studying how environmental factors produce lasting changes in without altering DNA sequence, may provide new insights into this question.

A new review, published in , has "incorporated the latest insight gained from clinical and epidemiological studies with potential epigenetic mechanisms from basic research," explained first author Dr. Tracy Bale. These key findings are from a conference on Early Life Programming and Neurodevelopmental Disorders held at the University of Pennsylvania.

For example, the authors discuss findings where maternal stress has been associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia in male offspring and may alter fetal brain growth. Data also indicate that maternal stress, infection, and/or exposure to famine contribute to an elevated risk for depression in offspring. Of critical importance, the brain continues to develop into adolescence, and so later influences, such as exposure to child abuse and/or neglect, must also be taken into account. Studies have consistently shown that adults who experience maltreatment as children are at a much greater risk of developing .

Clearly, multiple factors are at play that influence an individual's disease risk. By applying the principals of personalized medication, one can view this science as "personalized prevention," as it aims to apply these principals earlier in the pathological process. Understanding and defining these disease mechanisms at the very earliest points in life could help identify novel targets in therapy and prevention.

Explore further: Male images seen by left side of the brain, new study finds

More information: The article is "Early Life Programming and Neurodevelopmental Disorders" by Tracy L. Bale et al. The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 68, Issue 4 (August 15, 2010), published by Elsevier.

Related Stories

Childhood trauma has life-long effect on genes and the brain

Feb 23, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- McGill University and Douglas Institute scientists have discovered that childhood trauma can actually alter your DNA and shape the way your genes work. This confirms in humans earlier findings in rats, that ...

Recommended for you

An alternative to medical marijuana for pain?

20 hours ago

Medical marijuana is proliferating across the country due to the ability of cannabis ingestion to treat important clinical problems such as chronic pain. However, negative side effects and the development of tolerance limit ...

Curtailing worry reduces key schizophrenia symptom

21 hours ago

Delusions of persecution in psychiatric patients can be reduced with just six sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a new clinical trial has found. Using CBT in this way could potentially help ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.