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PITT, OHSU: When early life stress occurs determines its impact later

NOTE: Thise release has been updated since its original post.

SAN DIEGO, Oct. 24 Scientists at the OHSU Oregon National Primate Research Center and the University of Pittsburgh report significant stress early in life can have varying lifelong impacts depending of the timing of the stress exposure. The research also demonstrates that the impact can become even more profound when coupled with stress in adulthood. In a related but separate study, the researchers also observed the importance of timing in initiating therapies meant to counteract the impacts of early life stress. The research is being presented this week at the 2004 Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.

Past research conducted in both humans and animals has already established that significant stresses experienced early in life can cause problems in the development of social skills and behavioral problems that can last throughout childhood and into adulthood, said Judy Cameron, Ph.D., a scientist in the divisions of Reproductive Sciences and Neuroscience at the OHSU Oregon National Primate Research Center and the University of Pittsburgh. These problems can manifest themselves in a number of ways including increased anxiety, anti-social behavior, depression, drug and alcohol abuse and suicide. However, to this date, little information has been obtained as to whether the timing of early life stress exposure can be linked to differing outcomes. In addition, few studies have been conducted to determine the best methods for preventing or counteracting the lifelong impacts of such early life stress exposure.

Earlier studies have revealed that the first several months of life represent a dramatic period for brain development, especially in the neocortical regions of the brain, which are important in developing social skills. The development of neurons in this region takes place at an extremely accelerated rate during the first few months of life. In addition, important chang
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