Research in DevPsychBio Lab focuses on the effects of early adverse life experience on brain development and the subsequent behavioral and neuroanatomical changes in both males and females. We are particularly interested in the consequences of exposure to depression, stress or glucocorticoids during pregnancy or the postpartum period and how this affects brain neurochemistry, behavior and stress responsivity later in life. Further, the lab studies the effects of early pain exposure as well as medications such as anti- depressants on brain development using rats as the animal model of choice.

A) Maternal stress/depression and anti-depressant treatment and consequences for the offspring.

Each year, an estimated 13% of women take anti-depressant medication during pregnancy despite some evidence for negative consequences for the development of the offspring. For example, infants exposed to selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs, the most commonly prescribed anti-depressants) during pregnancy, frequently have an increased risk for preterm birth and lower birth weight, in addition to cognitive and developmental effects that may last well into childhood. Maternal depression, itself, has also been shown to impact the development of the offspring, often by affecting the mother-infant relationship. However, the dearth of knowledge about how to best treat depression during pregnancy or the postpartum and human studies are limited. The goal of the DevPsychBio lab is to better understand the consequences of pre- and peri-natal exposure to maternal depression and its treatment for the development of the brain and subsequent behavioral outcomes in the offspring by utilizing a rodent model of maternal depression. For this, we use rats that are treated with high levels of the stress hormone corticosterone to induce depressive-like behavior and investigate the effects of gestational exposure to clinically-relevant doses of antidepressants on their offspring.  Dr. Brummelte’s team is currently studying the long-term consequences of these early adverse experiences for the brain, as well as potential effects on the next (F2) generation. Our research addresses important questions on how exposure to early adverse conditions such as pharmacological treatments can influence the maturation of the nervous system and the long-term outcome of the offspring.

B) Early Adversity and Maternal Care

Preterm infants are subjected to many painful procedures during the first weeks of life while in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and these painful procedures have been associated with slower brain maturation (Brummelte, 2012) and negative cognitive outcomes (Grunau, 2009). Moreover, animal studies have confirmed that neonatal pain may result in neuronal degeneration (Anand et al., 2007), but less is known about how to prevent these negative consequences. Increased maternal care or contact has been suggested to alleviate neonatal pain, but not much is known whether this method will protect the brain from the negative impact of neonatal pain.

Therefore, the DevPsychBio is currently investigating the modulating effect of maternal care on the consequences of repeated neonatal pain-related stress using a rodent model.

C) For further projects in the DevPsychBio see individual bios for lab personnel.

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