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J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2015 May;54(5):352-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2015.01.019. Epub 2015 Feb 12.

How animal models inform child and adolescent psychiatry.

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University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Iowa City and the Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT. Electronic address:
Child Study Center and Yale School of Medicine.



Every available approach should be used to advance the field of child and adolescent psychiatry. Biological systems are important for the behavioral problems of children. Close examination of nonhuman animals and the biology and behavior that they share with humans is an approach that must be used to advance the clinical work of child psychiatry.


We review here how model systems are used to contribute to significant insights into childhood psychiatric disorders. Model systems have not only demonstrated causality of risk factors for psychiatric pathophysiology, but have also allowed child psychiatrists to think in different ways about risks for psychiatric disorders and multiple levels that might be the basis of recovery and prevention.


We present examples of how animal systems are used to benefit child psychiatry, including through environmental, genetic, and acute biological manipulations. Animal model work has been essential in our current thinking about childhood disorders, including the importance of dose and timing of risk factors, specific features of risk factors that are significant, neurochemistry involved in brain functioning, molecular components of brain development, and the importance of cellular processes previously neglected in psychiatric theories.


Animal models have clear advantages and disadvantages that must be considered for these systems to be useful. Coupled with increasingly sophisticated methods for investigating human behavior and biology, animal model systems will continue to make essential contributions to our field.


animal model; child psychiatry; development; environment; genes

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