Effects of early adverse experiences on brain structure and function: Clinical implications

Joan Kaufman, Paul M. Plotsky, Charles B. Nemeroff, Dennis S. Charney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Child abuse is associated with markedly elevated rates of major depression and other psychiatric disorders in adulthood. This article reviews preclinical studies examining the effects of early stress, factors that modify the impact of these experiences, and neurobiological changes associated with major depression. Preclinical studies demonstrate that early stress can alter the development of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, hypothalamic and extrahypothalamic corticotropin releasing hormone, monoaminergic, and γ-aminobutyric acid/benzodiazepine systems. Stress has also been shown to promote structural and functional alterations in brain regions similar to those seen in adults with depression. Emerging data suggest, however, that the long-term effects of early stress can be moderated by genetic factors and the quality of the subsequent caregiving environment. These effects also can be prevented or reversed with various pharmacologic interventions. Preclinical studies of early stress can provide valuable insights in understanding the pathophysiology and treatment of major depression. They also can provide an important tool to use to investigate interactions between genes and environments in determining an individual's sensitivity to stress. More research is needed to understand how inherent factors interact with experiences of abuse and other psychosocial factors to confer vulnerability to develop depression. (C) 2000 Society of Biological Psychiatry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)778-790
Number of pages13
JournalBiological psychiatry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 15 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Animal models
  • Child abuse
  • Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH)
  • Depression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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