We study the dynamic interaction between the brain, the body, and the environment throughout early life and adolescent development. Adverse or traumatic experience during early life is a known risk factor for the development of mental illness; however, the manifestation of disease does not typically occur until years after the adverse events occur. Using animal models with genetic, behavioral, and pharmacological manipulation, our laboratory investigates why this occurs, and how we might prevent it.
Specifically, we research how early life stress alters the development of inhibitory interneurons within the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Since stress plays an important role in the interaction of the brain with our immune system, we measure how early life stress affects inflammatory responses and subsequently leads to PFC interneuron damage and behavioral dysfunction later in life. By manipulating early environment, receptor expression, or inflammatory molecules within the PFC, we can shed light on how (and when) the brain responds to developmental disturbances, and how these responses translate into vulnerability to psychiatric disorders.