Mechanisms Underlying the Association Between Early-Life Adversity and Physical Health: Charting a Course for the Future

Psychosom Med. Nov/Dec 2016;78(9):1114-1119. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000421.


Early-life adversities (ELA) are associated with subsequent pervasive alterations across a wide range of neurobiological systems and psychosocial factors that contribute to accelerated onset of health problems and diseases. In this article, we provide an integrated perspective on recent developments in research on ELA, based on the articles published in this Special Issue of Psychosomatic Medicine. We focus on the following: 1) the distinction between specific versus general aspects of ELA with regard to the nature of exposure (e.g., physical and sexual abuse, emotional abuse or neglect, relative socioeconomic deprivation), biological and behavioral correlates of ELA, and differences across diseases; 2) the importance of timing in the critical phases of exposure to ELA; and 3) adaptive versus dysfunctional responses to ELA and their consequences for biological and behavioral risk factors for adverse health outcomes. This article concludes with outlining important new targets for research in this area, including the neurobiology of affect as a mechanism linking ELA to adverse health outcomes, and the need for large-scale longitudinal investigations of multisystem processes relevant to ELA in diverse samples, starting prenatally, continuing to late adolescence, and with long-term follow-up assessments that enable evaluation of incident disease outcomes.

Publication types

  • Editorial
  • Introductory Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Affect*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Social Class*