Early Developmental Trajectories of Brain Development: New Directions in the Search for Early Determinants of Health and Longevity
Conditions experienced early in life can have enduring consequences. Results from epidemiological studies and basic research agree that individual differences in both physical and mental health (cognitive, social, and emotional development as well as metabolic asset) can be determined by the early environment. Both prenatal life and the early postnatal periods are crucial times when adverse experiences including psychological or toxic stress can have major impact on developing systems. The next step in research is to identify the mechanisms underlying such programming. Changes in the effectors of stress responses during critical developmental stages may favor vulnerability to obesity, mental health, and neurodegeneration. Such broad spectrum of effects may explain the comorbidity often found between different pathologies, which can greatly affect longevity and the quality of life during aging. In addition to genetic susceptibility, epigenetic processes—which rely upon permanent changes in gene expression—could underlie such long-term effects and offer promise for environmental or pharmacological interventions.
KeywordsPrenatal Stress Allostatic Load Maternal Separation Early Life Stress Adverse Childhood Experience
This work was supported by EU (FP7) Project DORIAN “Developmental Origin of Healthy and Unhealthy Aging: The Role of Maternal Obesity” (grant n. 278603) and by ERA net-NEURON “Poseidon” and RF-2009-1498890. The authors are grateful to Sara Capoccia e Veronica Bellisario for their skillful help in retrieving and selecting bibliographic entries.
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