Neonatal maltreatment and brain development

Kadriye Yurdakök


The early childhood years are a period of rapid change in the brain. During early childhood, the brain forms and refines a complex network of connections through synaptogenesis, pruning, and myelination. The development of the brain is regulated by genes, which interact profoundly with early experience. There are sensitive periods for development of certain capabilities. These refer to critical windows of time in the developmental process when certain parts of the brain may be most susceptible to particular experiences during its development. Most functions of the human brain result from a complex interplay between genetic potential and appropriately timed experiences. Early postnatal experiences play a major role in shaping the functional capacity of the neural systems responsible for mediating our cognitive, emotional, social and physiological functions. When the necessary experiences are not provided at the optimal times, these neural systems do not develop in optimal ways. Adverse environments and experiences during the neonatal period can dramatically affect the development of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) that underlies adaptive behavioral responses. Early life stress programs HPA axis development and exerts profound effects on neural plasticity, with resultant long-term influences on neurobehavior. Animal studies show that not only are these neurobiological changes long lasting, but that they too can be passed on to future generations via non-genetic transmission. Olfactory, auditory, visual and tactile stimulation may serve as an important cue for brain development exerting specific effects on neuroendocrine systems regulating social and emotional behavior which may have consequences for subsequent generations of offspring.


Proceedings of the 10th International Workshop on Neonatology · Cagliari (Italy) · October 22nd-25th, 2014 · The last ten years, the next ten years in Neonatology

Guest Editors: Vassilios Fanos, Michele Mussap, Gavino Faa, Apostolos Papageorgiou


maternal care; early postnatal experiences; brain development; epigenetics

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