Associate Professor of Clinical Medical Psychology
Division of Developmental Neuroscience, Department of Psychiatry
Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons
Research Director of the Rodent Behavioral Core and Research Scientist VI
New York State Psychiatric Institute
1051 Riverside Drive, Unit 40
New York, NY 10032
Toxic stress encountered early in life is associated with a lifetime increase in the risk for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, cognitive dysfunction, and attentional problems. Significant sex disparities exist for these stress-associated disorders, with a greater incidence in females compared to males. Despite the high prevalence of these disorders, the mechanisms through which stress increases risk for negative outcomes remains poorly understood. The focus of my program of research is to understand how adverse experiences encountered early in life alter the trajectory of neural and behavioral development, sex differences in sensitivity to those signals, and the genetic mechanisms driving those changes. We approach these questions through both an evolutionary and developmental lens, with the hypothesis that stress serves as a signal of the quality of the surrounding world for the developing brain. These signals can alter the trajectory and timing of regional brain maturation to support proximate goals of survival and reproduction, with possible long-term implications for the expression of pathological behavior. Given the different strategies of males and females to achieve reproductive success, the response of the developing system to stress and consequences for future behavior are likely to be unique for males and females. To induce early life stress, we manipulate maternal resources and maternal contact. We then assess the effects of these manipulations on the development of multiple brain centers, including the social behavioral network, limbic, paralimbic, and cortical brain areas, and behaviors associated with the development of each. Throughout our work, we use an interdisciplinary, vertically integrated, approach spanning from genes to behavior with the ultimate goal of translation to understand the human condition.