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

Michael Meaney

Biological basis of vulnerability for psychopathology
Romina Mizrahi

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

Secondary 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

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