Neurobiological effects of childhood abuse: implications for the pathophysiology of depression and anxiety
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Mood and anxiety disorders are highly prevalent psychiatric disorders, especially in women, and they are associated with significant morbidity and mortality. A considerable literature indicates that vulnerability to depression and anxiety disorders is markedly increased by childhood abuse, e.g., physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, as well as adulthood stressors, e.g., death of a spouse. Little is known about the developmental neurobiological mechanisms by which childhood abuse increases the susceptibility of women to the development of depression and anxiety disorders in adulthood. Recent research on the effects of adverse early life experiences on central nervous system (CNS) stress systems has provided a greater understanding of the link between childhood abuse and susceptibility to mood and anxiety disorders. Specifically, early life traumatic events, occurring during a period of neuronal plasticity, appear to permanently render neuroendocrine stress response systems supersensitive. These physiological maladaptations likely represent long-term risk factors for the development of psychopathology after exposure to additional stress.
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