Psychobiological Consequences of Child Maltreatment
Adversity in early life, such as childhood abuse, neglect, and loss, is a well-established major risk factor for developing a range of psychiatric and medical disorders later in life. Biological embedding of maltreatment during development is thought to underlie this long-term increased risk. Our results suggest that childhood trauma in humans is associated with sensitization of the stress response, glucocorticoid resistance, decreased oxytocin activity, inflammation, reduced hippocampal volume, and changes in cortical fields that are implicated in the perception or processing of the abuse. The consequences of childhood trauma are moderated by genetic factors and mediated by epigenetic changes in genes relevant for stress regulation. Understanding longitudinal trajectories of biological embedding, and their moderation by gene–environment interaction, is critical to enable us to design novel interventions that directly reverse these processes and to derive biomarkers that identify children who are at risk to develop disorders or are susceptible to a specific intervention.
KeywordsHPA axis Amygdala Biological embedding Child maltreatment Hippocampus Stress response
Dr. Heim’s work is being funded by the German Ministry of Research and Education (01KR1301,01GL1743) and the National Institutes of Health (P50HD089922) as well as the Jacobs Foundation.
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