Understanding the potency of stressful early life experiences on brain and body function

Metabolism. 2008 Oct;57 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):S11-5. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2008.07.006.


Early life experiences have powerful effects on the brain and body lasting throughout the entire life span and influencing brain function, behavior, and the risk for a number of systemic and mental disorders. Animal models of early life adversity are providing mechanistic insights, including glimpses into the fascinating world that is now called "epigenetics" as well as the role of naturally occurring alleles of a number of genes. These studies also provide insights into the adaptive value as well as the negative consequences, of early life stress, exposure to novelty, and poor-quality vs good-quality maternal care. Animal models begin to provide a mechanistic basis for understanding how brain development and physiological functioning is affected in children exposed to early life abuse and neglect, where there is a burgeoning literature on the consequences for physical health and emotional and cognitive development. An important goal is to identify interventions that are likely to be most effective in early life and some guidelines are provided.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / embryology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Environment
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / physiology
  • Female
  • Genes / physiology
  • Growth and Development / genetics
  • Growth and Development / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / psychology*