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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2009 Apr;33(4):573-85. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2008.09.001. Epub 2008 Sep 4.

Early life stress as a risk factor for mental health: role of neurotrophins from rodents to non-human primates.

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Section of Behavioural Neuroscience, Department of Cell Biology, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Viale Regina Elena 299, I-00161 Rome, Italy.


Early adverse events can enhance stress responsiveness and lead to greater susceptibility for psychopathology at adulthood. The epigenetic factors involved in transducing specific features of the rearing environment into stable changes in brain and behavioural plasticity have only begun to be elucidated. Neurotrophic factors, such as nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), are affected by stress and play a major role in brain development and in the trophism of specific neuronal networks involved in cognitive function and in mood disorders. In addition to the central nervous system, these effectors are produced by peripheral tissues, thus being in a position to integrate the response to external challenges. In this paper we will review data, obtained from animal models, indicating that early maternal deprivation stress can affect neurotrophin levels. Maladaptive or repeated activation of NGF and BDNF, early during postnatal life, may influence stress sensitivity at adulthood and increase vulnerability for stress-related psychopathology.

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