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The role of childhood trauma in the neurobiology of mood and anxiety disorders: preclinical and clinical studies

  • Christine Heim
    Affiliations
    Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
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  • Charles B Nemeroff
    Correspondence
    Address reprint requests to Charles B. Nemeroff, MD, PhD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, 1639 Pierce Drive, WMRB, Suite 4000, Atlanta, GA 30322
    Affiliations
    Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
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      Abstract

      Epidemiologic studies indicate that children exposed to early adverse experiences are at increased risk for the development of depression, anxiety disorders, or both. Persistent sensitization of central nervous system (CNS) circuits as a consequence of early life stress, which are integrally involved in the regulation of stress and emotion, may represent the underlying biological substrate of an increased vulnerability to subsequent stress as well as to the development of depression and anxiety. A number of preclinical studies suggest that early life stress induces long-lived hyper(re)activity of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) systems as well as alterations in other neurotransmitter systems, resulting in increased stress responsiveness. Many of the findings from these preclinical studies are comparable to findings in adult patients with mood and anxiety disorders. Emerging evidence from clinical studies suggests that exposure to early life stress is associated with neurobiological changes in children and adults, which may underlie the increased risk of psychopathology. Current research is focused on strategies to prevent or reverse the detrimental effects of early life stress on the CNS. The identification of the neurobiological substrates of early adverse experience is of paramount importance for the development of novel treatments for children, adolescents, and adults.

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