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Developmental Biopsychiatry Research Program

Effects of Early Trauma/Stress on Brain Development

The brain is a plastic organ. Genes largely dictate the circuits and pathways, but experience is the ultimate sculpture. We were the first to propose that early abuse exerts a persistent deleterious effects on brain development, and have taken the lead in efforts to subject this hypothesis to scientific test.

Major findings

  1. Childhood abuse is associated with a two-fold increased incidence of EEG abnormalities in left but not right hemisphere.
  2. Documented childhood abuse is associated with diminished cortical development of the left but not right hemisphere as assessed by EEG coherence.
  3. Childhood abuse is associated with diminished area of the mid portions of the corpus callosum.
  4. Functional MRI assessment of brain perfusion indicates that adults with a history of abuse have a significant left/right hemisphere disparity, while perfusion of the two hemispheres is tightly coupled in normal controls.
  5. Repeated stress during early development causes rats to become persistently hyperactive or restless, and enhances dopamine and diminishes serotonin activity in nucleus accumbens and amygdala.