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.

Primary Researchers

Cecilia Flores Adolescent brain development and susceptibility to psychopathology
Suzanne King Role of prenatal maternal stress in the development of psychopathology
Giamal Luheshi Neuroinflammation
Michael J. Meaney Biological basis of vulnerability for psychopathology
Kieran O'Donnell Perinatal influences on early-childhood development, biological embedding of early adversity
Patrícia Pelufo Silveira Early-life adversity and the co-morbidity between metabolic and psychiatric disease
Lalit Srivastava Etiopathology of schizophrenia and autism
Dominique Walker Early stress, maternal regulation, and neuroendocrine development
Tie Yuan Zhang Optoneuroepigenetics


Associated Researchers

Patricia Boksa Neurobiology of schizophrenia and neurodevelopmental disorders
Nicolas Cermakian Molecular chronobiology
Mallar Chakravarty Computational brain anatomy
J. Bruno Debruille Cognitive and social neuroscience
Ridha Joober Genetics and pharmacogenetics of psychiatric disorders
Naguib Mechawar Neuroanatomy of mood disorders and suicide
Xiangfei Meng Study and prevention of psychiatric and neuro-degenerative diseases
Natasha Rajah Cognitive neuroscience of aging & memory


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.