Environmental Adversity, Neurodevelopment, and Mental Health

Leader: Patrícia Pelufo Silveira, PhD

The Environmental adversity, neurodevelopment and mental health group is devoted to investigating how the early environment can impact and modify brain maturational trajectories that result in the development and progression of many psychiatric disorders. Research in the neurodevelopmental origins of adult chronic disease, especially in the context of gene x environment interactions, is a key area of investigation at the Douglas Research Centre. We focus on carrying out further investigations into individual differences in the vulnerability to psychiatric conditions, and informing preventative and therapeutic measures.

Research Program

Studies of the origins of psychopathology are often hampered by an astounding paradox: while almost all mental disorders show a peak age of onset in childhood or early adolescence, human epidemiological research focuses on genetic or environmental correlates of diseases states using studies of adult subjects. This leaves an enormous gap in our knowledge. Specifically, when do candidate risk factors operate to create vulnerability? What are the critical windows of vulnerability and are these sex differentiated? How do homeostatic mechanisms compensate for changes in developmental trajectories? It is impossible to identify causal pathways in the absence of a clear developmental framework. Moreover, there is strong evidence for the importance of prenatal and early neonatal environments on the subsequent risk for all common mental disorders.

The overall objective of the Environmental adversity, neurodevelopment and mental health group is to understand the mechanisms by which events happening during critical periods of development shape the health/disease pattern of individuals over their life-course. More specifically, we will:

  1. Promote the integration of scientists and students interested in investigating the mechanisms linked to the long-term effects of environmental variation during development, fostering collaborations and scientific discussions
  2. Facilitate the translation between models focused on molecular, cellular, systemic, individual or epidemiological levels, exploring complexity in the context of the interaction between the genetic background and environmental influences on neurodevelopmental trajectories, behavioral and health outcomes.
  3. Further knowledge translation about the importance of the early environment to health practitioners, policy makers and the general community.

Primary researchers

Cecilia Flores

Adolescent brain development and susceptibility to psychopathology

Suzanne King, PhD Suzanne King

Role of prenatal maternal stress in the development of psychopathology

Michael Meaney

Biological basis of vulnerability for psychopathology

Patricia Pelufo Silveira

Early life adversity and the co-morbidity between metabolic and psychiatric disease

Lalit Srivastava

Etiopathology of schizophrenia and autism

Dominique Walker, PhD Claire-Dominique Walker

Early stress, maternal regulation and neuroendocrine development

Associated researchers

Nicolas Cermakian, PhD Nicolas Cermakian

Molecular chronobiology

Mallar Chakravarty, PhD Mallar Chakravarty

Computational brain anatomy

J. Bruno Debruille, MD, PhD J. Bruno Debruille

Cognitive and social neuroscience

Ridha Joober, MD, PhD Ridha Joober

Genetics and pharmacogenetics of psychiatric disorders, Youth mental health and early intervention in psychotic disorders

Naguib Mechawar, PhD Naguib Mechawar

Neuroanatomy of mood disorders and suicide

Xiangfei Meng

Population mental health and early life stress in neuropsychiatric disorders across the lifespan

Maria Natasha Rajah

Cognitive neuroscience of memory, aging and dementia prevention

Recent news


A study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry has created a metric that reflects variation in the expression of genes controlling the organization of neuronal connections during development. When applied in different groups of children, the score can detect children that are more impulsive in behavioral tasks. Impulsivity has been associated with increased risk to many psychiatric disorders, including addiction. Therefore, it is very relevant to identify this vulnerability early in life when preventive measures can be offered.


Congratulations to Drs. Nicolas Cermakian and Patricia Pelufo Silveira for recently obtaining a Ludmer-MI4 Seed Funding Grant! This grant aimed at supporting a new health research project focusing on the role of infection, immunity and/or the microbiome in the development, prevention or treatment of mental health disorders. The funded project is entitled, Maternal immune activation and circadian disruption as risk factors for mental disorders – using transcriptomics to identify individual differences in susceptibility. 

We wish Dr. Cermakian, Dr. Silveira, and their collaborators, Dr. Lalit Srivastava and Dr. Tie Yuan Zhang, success in their endeavours.

Project summary


The Douglas Research Centre is proud to announce that Drs. Gustavo Turecki and Michael Meaney have been named on the annual Highly Cited Researchers 2021 list from Clarivate.


The Douglas Foundation and Bombardier offered two grants of $50,000 each to support clinical research projects on mental health carried out by Douglas researchers. After independent review of the applications submitted, the proposals submitted by Drs. Cecilia Flores and Sherif Karama were selected for funding.



Congratulations to Drs. Jamie NearPatricia Pelufo Silveira and Rachel Rabin who were awarded FRQS Chercheur Boursier awards!


Healthy Brains, Healthy Lives has announced the projects selected to receive this year's Neuro Commercialization Ignite Grants. These grants aim to support small-scale validation/proof-of-principle efforts in the development of a neuroscience-related technology.

We are pleased to announce that three of our researchers, Drs. Salah El Mestikawy, Patrícia Pelufo Silveira, and Sylvain Williams, received the $50,000 award to move their exciting projects forward.


In fall 2019, Dr. Patricia Silveira, a researcher at the Douglas Research Centre, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University and interim Scientific Director at the Ludmer Centre for Neuroinformatics & Mental Health, was invited to join the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child as a core member. The Council, which translates scientific concepts on child development to the public and policymakers, is based out of the Harvard School of Medicine and has a North America-wide mandate.