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Neurobiological Consequences of Childhood Trauma

Charles B. Nemeroff, MD, PhD

Published: January 1, 2004

Article Abstract

There is considerable evidence to suggest that adverse early-life experiences have a profound effecton the developing brain. Neurobiological changes that occur in response to untoward early-lifestress can lead to lifelong psychiatric sequelae. Children who are exposed to sexual or physical abuseor the death of a parent are at higher risk for development of depressive and anxiety disorders later inlife. Preclinical and clinical studies have shown that repeated early-life stress leads to alterations incentral neurobiological systems, particularly in the corticotropin-releasing factor system, leading toincreased responsiveness to stress. Clearly, exposure to early-life stressors leads to neurobiologicalchanges that increase the risk of psychopathology in both children and adults. Identification of theneurobiological substrates that are affected by adverse experiences in early life should lead to thedevelopment of more effective treatments for these disorders. The preclinical and clinical studiesevaluating the consequences of early-life stress are reviewed.

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