How does early stress affect brain development?

Duodecim. 2016;132(15):1345-50.


Early stress would seem to be associated with alterations in certain structures of the brain, such as the amygdala and hippocampus, cerebral cortex and white matter, in structures of pathways essential to emotional control. Furthermore, a tendency to have higher levels of stress hormone, i.e. cortisol, as well as hormonal responses to stress has been shown in individuals exposed to early stress. Early stress, already experienced in utero, may in fact program the central nervous system to become more susceptible to later-onset disturbances of regulation of stress and emotions. Prevention and treatment of stress during pregnancy and its consequences would thus require more investments than at present.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control*


  • Biomarkers
  • Hydrocortisone