Early adversity, brain development and childhood behavioural problems. Research findings from the Generation R Study

Henning Tiemeier

Background: Epidemiological studies showed that early adversities underlie the vulnerability for behavioural disorders like autism and ADHD. These studies relied on psychiatric assessments and thus our knowledge about how early life adversity shape brain development and whether this mediates behavioral problems is limited. Imaging studies designed to optimally evaluate the role of multiple environmental factors on brain development require both large sample sizes and the prospective collection of environmental exposures.

Methods: The Generation R Study is a large, prospective, prenatal-cohort study of nearly 10,000 children that began in 2002 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. From September of 2009, 6–11 year old children from the Generation R Study were invited to participate in a magnetic resonance imaging component of the study. I will provide an overview of the study design and results for the first 5000 children recruited for the neuroimaging component of the study.

Results: The focus of my presentation will be on how prenatal exposure to maternal thyroid deficiency and postnatal depression shapes global brain development; the specific effects of insensitive parenting on gray matter development, and ongoing studies of childhood bullying and emotional problems in relation to changes in brain connectivity are presented. Also, I will discuss methodological challenges such as reversed causality and future plans.