Neurobiological and Behavioral Consequences of Exposure to Childhood Traumatic Stress
Our studies focus on the effects of early childhood maltreatment on the developing brain, and the implications for the emergence of psychiatric disorder. We have proposed that early maltreatment produces a cascade of physiological and neurohumoral responses built on the following five fundamental premises. First, that exposure to stress early in life activates stress response systems, and fundamentally alters their molecular organization to modify their sensitivity and response bias. Second, that exposure of the developing brain to stress hormones exerts consequences by affecting gene expression, myelination, neural morphology, neurogenesis and synaptogenesis. Third, that different brain regions vary in their sensitivity, which depends, in part, upon genetics, timing, rate of development, and density of glucocorticoid receptors. Fourth, that there are enduring functional consequences that include attenuated left hemisphere development, decreased right/left hemisphere integration, increased electrical irritability within the limbic system circuits, and diminished functional activity of the cerebellar vermis. Fifth, that there are associated neuropsychiatric consequences and vulnerabilities, which lead to an enhanced risk for the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, borderline personality disorder (BPD), dissociative identity disorder (DID), and substance abuse.