Electrophysiological insights into the enduring effects of early life stress on the brain
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Increasing evidence links exposure to stress early in life to long-term alterations in brain function, which in turn have been linked to a range of psychiatric and neurological disorders in humans. Electrophysiological approaches to studying these causal pathways have been relatively underexploited. Effects of early life stress on neuronal electrophysiological properties offer a set of potential mechanisms for these susceptibilities, notably in the case of epilepsy. Thus, we review experimental evidence for altered cellular and circuit electrophysiology resulting from exposure to early life stress. Much of this work focuses on limbic long-term potentiation, but other studies address alterations in electrophysiological properties of ion channels, neurotransmitter systems, and the autonomic nervous system. We discuss mechanisms which may mediate these effects, including influences of early life stress on key components of brain synaptic transmission, particularly glutamate, GABA and 5-HT receptors, and influences on neuroplasticity (primarily neurogenesis and synaptic density) and on neuronal network activity. The existing literature, although small, provides strong evidence that early life stress induces enduring, often robust effects on a range of electrophysiological properties, suggesting further study of enduring effects of early life stress employing electrophysiological methods and concepts will be productive in illuminating disease pathophysiology.