Maternal Exposure to Childhood Trauma Is Associated During Pregnancy With Placental-Fetal Stress Physiology

  • Nora K. Moog
    Development, Health, and Disease Research Program, University of California, Irvine, Orange, California

    Department of Medical Psychology, Charité University Medicine Berlin, Berlin, Germany
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  • Claudia Buss
    Development, Health, and Disease Research Program, University of California, Irvine, Orange, California

    Department of Medical Psychology, Charité University Medicine Berlin, Berlin, Germany

    Department of Pediatrics, University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine, Orange
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  • Sonja Entringer
    Development, Health, and Disease Research Program, University of California, Irvine, Orange, California

    Department of Medical Psychology, Charité University Medicine Berlin, Berlin, Germany

    Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles
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  • Babak Shahbaba
    Department of Statistics, University of California, Irvine, Irvine
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  • Daniel L. Gillen
    Department of Statistics, University of California, Irvine, Irvine
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  • Calvin J. Hobel
    Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles
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  • Pathik D. Wadhwa
    Address correspondence to Pathik D. Wadhwa, M.D., Ph.D., University of California, UC Irvine Development, Health and Disease Research Program, 3117 Gillespie, 837 Health Sciences Road, Irvine, CA 92697-4260.
    Development, Health, and Disease Research Program, University of California, Irvine, Orange, California

    Department of Pediatrics, University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine, Orange

    Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles

    Departments of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine, Orange, Irvine, California

    Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine, Orange, Irvine, California

    Department of Epidemiology, University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine, Irvine, California
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Published:September 03, 2015DOI:



      The effects of exposure to childhood trauma (CT) may be transmitted across generations; however, the time period(s) and mechanism(s) have yet to be clarified. We address the hypothesis that intergenerational transmission may begin during intrauterine life via the effect of maternal CT exposure on placental-fetal stress physiology, specifically placental corticotropin-releasing hormone (pCRH).


      The study was conducted in a sociodemographically diverse cohort of 295 pregnant women. CT exposure was assessed using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. Placental CRH concentrations were quantified in maternal blood collected serially over the course of gestation. Linear mixed effects and Bayesian piece-wise linear models were employed to test hypothesized relationships.


      Maternal CT exposure (CT+) was significantly associated with pCRH production. Compared with nonexposed women, CT+ was associated with an almost 25% increase in pCRH toward the end of gestation, and the pCRH trajectory of CT+ women exhibited an approximately twofold steeper increase after the pCRH inflection point at 19 weeks gestation.


      To the best of our knowledge, this finding represents the first report linking maternal CT exposure with placental-fetal stress physiology, thus identifying a potential novel biological pathway of intergenerational transmission that may operate as early as during intrauterine life.


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