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Balancing brain and behavior in investigations of early childhood psychopathology

Julia Araujo

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An initial project underneath the topic of childhood depression, powered by collaborations and which ought to inspire SfN’s members as it continues constantly (scientifically) improving: Dr. Luby’s Scientific Research Webinar - now on demand - was broadcasted on January 4th.

Including an experienced personal guidance, questions of thoughtful participants, brilliant research prospects and a explanation of inspirational publications, my summary shall update and take us all to new discussions - as prompted by Dr. Joan L. Luby - or even present a new topic for those passionate about Neuroscience.

Initially, it’s important to describe an initial collaboration among the brain and the behavior that, after all, besides naming after the research, emphasises the trust, the respect and one of the key aspects (highlighted by our presenter) that made the incredible work possible: the meeting of Psychology and Neuroimaging. This way, a public health objective of addressing children under the age of 6 with diagnosed clinical depression and developing early intervention for such group, became something even greater.

After all, what still has a high potential for clinical translation based on design studies, structured itself on a collaboration. Due to the feasibility of imaging kids aged about 6, there was a skeptical professional view of a neuroimaging specialist. Nonetheless, intrigued by population studies and accumulated data on adults with schizophrenia and depression, the context of neuro data transformed into a follow up and the path for certain questions. Would the development of functional and social impairments be spontaneously remitted by school age? What about the chronicity endurance of the disorder for the later childhood and adolescence?

Those aged from 3 to 6 years with depression characteristics - comparatively to those with called normative sadness and other disorders - already faced different health impairments and other different psychological conditions whose, relying on development, behavior and psychosocial variables, represented an interaction of emotion development and risks for psychopathologies. 

Yet, with much more that came through the webinar, it could only become clearer on how the direct collaboration of phenomenological studies and neuro data had just adjoined themselves for a path of Early Childhood Psychopathology’s Intervention discoveries, targeting control variables all the way to becoming central emerging ones. From Dr. Luby’s words: “Don't be so focused on what you initially proposed so you ignore what you did discover…”

The hippocampi with varied volumes proved to be the Neuroimaging interaction from animal models and well-stablished Methylation Mechanism with the psychosocial ideas - by means, concepts - of the targets. The licking (and, therefore, psychosocial aspect), the DNA transformation, demethylation, glucorticord receptors impacted, the hippocampus volume: it had to do with the caregivers. In fact, those videotaped by blind coders based on maternal support (considering the volume variation of school aged hippocampi) were the poverty mediation and the stressful (or poor) parenting that had to do with the initial questions.

Along the targeting for early intervention, it was possible to take notes on the optimal data on subcortical grey matter volumes up to the impact of biological systems. The Neuro-immune Network Hypothesis, after all, showed to us how adverse, abusive and depriving environments communicated with immune cells in materials which participate in responses, health behaviours and unrelated outcomes. Scientifically, the bridge between learning, education and interventions was stablished. Textually, the presentation ignites a whole group of topics still to be written about.

For an instance, an opinion piece on basic Neuroscience research - parallel to Model researches on single neurons level (on other animals) and to circuit or structural (on humans) - the composition and the collaboration extended itself towards the impact on public health. Indeed, the cross-talking of a sensitive period of visual, language, emotional, cognitive and social for Early Interventions and Early Precautions symbolises the questions to construct an optimisation plan. When and which opportunities shall be increased by the influence of environmental factors?

Following up, the Early Life Adversity Biological and Embedding Study (a collaboration between Preterm and Neuroscience) was the key to investigate the mechanisms and the risks -  along with theirs respective increases and decreases - on the offspring of the uncertainties regarding pregnancy (preterm birth).

Upon consideration of NMH (cytokines markers), the stool and blood samples (to do with inflammation) - as well as the caregiver-child relationship (considered was a protective and trajectory factor) - there were discoveries. 

In terms of the caregivers, poverty had a lot to do with a high Neuroplasticity in fetus development. Smaller grey and white volumes were functions to point out the disadvantageous experiences by the fetus as early as possible. Violent crime exposures, with impacts of neonatal frontal-limbic connectivity, added to the first statement of this paragraph. Lastly, mediated by a smaller cortical grey matter volume, what was thought to be a factor for preterm birth, actually represented sleep disfunction and chronodisruption, on the outcomes by mechanical aspects. 

By the end, poverty - rhythmically transmitted to the fetus - is an alteration in developing child brains with a higher risk for psychopathology and, therefore, the highlight of these fascinating collaborations. To elucidate, as following up the collection of samples, sleep and circadian rhythms (continuing as the offsprings) and the nonographies (with school age kids from initial study), EEGs performed on humans and animal research on circadian cycles (with Neuroimaging) gathers all of the work and the relationship that ought to be consolidated.

In general, as learned through the content of the webinar, the literature on sleep (synaptic) functions, homeostasis and how socio-emotional aspects correlate to sleep formulate important prospects once sleep duration, timing and stages are analysed at a greater sleep/wake ratio on the course of Brain Development. 

As for the intervention itself, a Parent-Child Interaction Therapy Emotional Development (PCIT-ED) - for preschoolers with depression - relies on the effects of Reward Response (Erp), considering baseline and post intervention.

By the end of this incredible scientific journey, Dr. Luby’s words resonate within personal factors, indispensable for us all to manage failure and rejection; question our own findings (what has to do with flexibility); keep goal focused (as being loyal to the truth); have fun (on the matter of not taking yourself too seriously while balancing your work); choose your collaborations (including trust, work habits and respect); keep an eye on health and science impacts: they are symbols of experience and wisdom we shall appreciate Dr. Luby for.


Top 6 webinar questions answered:

  1. Who can be the primary caregiver? Response: Anyone who ought to offer the needed support.
  2. What about brain changes related to each psychopathology? R.: Some do have relations, others are still not clear.
  3. What about temperament reports and quizzes? R.: There was a moderating effect.
  4. What about cortisol dynamics and diet screen? R.: Yes, there is alteration considering that.
  5. What about the measure of Immune? R.: The activation or not of cytokines were the main measure, thought there was not a direct one, there is some looking to brain inflammation.
  6. Which would be the best interventions? R.: Focus on caregivers and the environment.
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  • 2 weeks later...
Bianca Williams

Thank you for your contribution Julia!

If you have not already, please check out the on demand webinar titled, "Balancing Brain and Behavior in Investigations of Early Childhood Psychopathology" and add your thoughts below. This webinar is a part of the Meet-the-Expert series that will take place on Wednesdays throughout the month of September.  Join us to hear from leaders in the field about their career journey. Each webinar will be one-hour long, with time for Q&A with the audience. 

Watch Now!


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