Early-life caregiving shapes the architecture and function of the developing brain. The fact that the infant-caregiver relationship is critically important for infant functioning across all altricial species, and that the anatomical circuits supporting emotional functioning are highly preserved across different species, suggests that the results of studies examining the role of early adversity and emotional functioning should be translatable across species. Here we present findings from four different research laboratories, using three different species, which have converged on a similar finding: adversity accelerates the developmental trajectory of amygdala-prefrontal cortex (PFC) development and modifies emotional behaviors. First, a rodent model of attachment learning associated with adversity is presented showing precocial disruption of attachment learning and emergence of heightened fear learning and emotionality. Second, a model of infant-mother separation is presented in which early adversity is shown to accelerate the developmental emergence of adult-like fear retention and extinction. Third, a model of early life adversity in Rhesus monkeys is presented in which a naturally occurring variation in maternal-care (abuse) is shown to alter the functioning of emotion circuits. Finally, a human model of maternal deprivation is presented in which children born into orphanages and then adopted abroad exhibit aberrant development of emotion circuits. The convergence of these cross-species studies on early life adversity suggests that adversity targets the amygdala and PFC and has immediate impact on infant behavior with the caregiver, and emotional reactions to the world. These results provide insight into mechanisms responsible for caregiver induced mental health trajectory alterations.
© 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.