Scientific Purpose of the Berlin Longitudinal Children Study (Berlin LCS)

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Immediate Biological Embedding of Maltreatment in Children: Berlin Longitudinal Children Study (BerlinLCS)

Biological embedding of maltreatment during development is thought to underlie the longterm increased risk for a wide range of psychiatric and medical disorders across the lifespan in susceptible individuals.

However, the immediate processes of biological embedding after maltreatment remain unknown and we are thus not able to offer pathophysiology-driven effective prevention strategies to these children. While gene x environment (GxE) interactions moderating the longterm adverse health outcomes of early-life stress (ELS) are known from multiple studies in adult and child samples, their immediate impact on biological embedding of ELS remains unstudied.

Understanding trajectories of biological embedding, and their moderation by GxE interactions, will enable us to design novel interventions that directly reverse these immediate processes and to derive biomarkers that identify children who are at risk to develop disorders and/or are susceptible to respond to a particular intervention. The objective of this research project is to establish a multidisciplinary longitudinal study of maltreated children and matched non-maltreated controls, aimed at

  1. elucidating the immediate trajectories of biological embedding of ELS at the level of stress-regulatory systems,
  2. identifying the association between these immediate biological trajectories and the development of symptoms, and
  3. determining how GxE interactions modify these biological trajectories leading to risk versus resilience.

In a series of interrelated projects, our research network  investigates the biological embedding of ELS at the neuroendocrine, autonomic, immune, neural, and epigenetic level, and determines GxE interaction effects at these levels of inquiry. Our research network comprises researchers from different disciplines at Charité University Medical Center Berlin, including

  • the Institute of Medical Psychology (Christine Heim; Network Principal Investigator),
  • the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (Ulrike Lehmkuhl),
  • the Berlin Center of Advanced Neuroimaging (John-Dylan Haynes), as well as
  • researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich (Elisabeth Binder).

Our network combines scientific depth with the necessary breadth across disciplines, which is critical for considering the immediate consequences of child maltreatment at the neurobiological, genomic and behavioral level.