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Early-life adversity and neurological disease: age-old questions and novel answers.


Neurological illnesses, including cognitive impairment, memory decline and dementia, affect over 50 million people worldwide, imposing a substantial burden on individuals and society. These disorders arise from a combination of genetic, environmental and experiential factors, with the latter two factors having the greatest impact during sensitive periods in development. In this Review, we focus on the contribution of adverse early-life experiences to aberrant brain maturation, which might underlie vulnerability to cognitive brain disorders. Specifically, we draw on recent robust discoveries from diverse disciplines, encompassing human studies and experimental models. These discoveries suggest that early-life adversity, especially in the perinatal period, influences the maturation of brain circuits involved in cognition. Importantly, new findings suggest that fragmented and unpredictable environmental and parental signals comprise a novel potent type of adversity, which contributes to subsequent vulnerabilities to cognitive illnesses via mechanisms involving disordered maturation of brain 'wiring'.

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