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- Developmental psychobiology, i.e. consequences of early adverse experience
- Neurobiology of depression & anxiety disorders, i.e. posttraumatic stress disorder
- Psychoneuroendocrinology of functional somatic syndromes
- Neural correlates of stress and emotion
- Interactions of stress and dispositional factors across development
My interests combine research on the psychobiology of stress and trauma with a developmental and
clinical perspective. I am particularly interested in elucidating the mechanisms involved in the
developmental programming of health and disease as a function of early experience, in order to derive novel pathophysiology-driven targets for the prevention and intervention of disorders related to early life stress (ELS). Over the past years, I have employed a retrospective multidisciplinary approach, integrating psychological, neuroendocrine, immunological and neural measures in humans, in order to identify the mechanisms that may translate exposure to ELS into increased risk for psychiatric and medical disorders across the lifespan. Our findings were the first to demonstrate that ELS in humans is associated with long-term sensitization of stress response systems that in turn predicts psychopathology. In subsequent studies, we identified manifold neurobiological changes that contribute to stress sensitization and disease risk after ELS. These studies part of the Emory Conte Center for the Neuroscience of Mental Disorders and, therefore, I have extensive experience with running large-scale clinical studies. I further expanded my methodological expertise to neuroimaging during a National Institutes of Health K01 Research Career Development Award. Additional collaborative research focused on gene x environment interactions in the consequences of ELS. Collectively this research shows that ELS, in concert with genetic factors, induces a fundamental change in stress regulatory systems, with consequences for brain development, immune function, and behavior, leading towards clinical manifestations. Understanding the immediate mechanisms that lead to such long-term biological ‘scars’ will enable the development of early targeted interventions that block, reverse or compensate these processes and use developmental plasticity to prevent the detrimental consequences of ELS across the lifespan. At present, I focus on longitudinal studies in children, aimed at mapping processes of biological embedding of ELS at neural, physiological and molecular levels, as well the moderation and prevention or reversal of such embedding. Taken together, the impact of my work is reflected in more than 20,000 citations. I am the recipient of more than 10 honors and awards, including the 2004 Chaim Danieli Young Professional Award of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies, the 2007 Curt P. Richter Award of the International Society for Psychoneuroendocrinology, and the 2015 Patricia Barchas Award in Sociophysiology of the American Psychosomatic Society. I am an elected as a member of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology. In 2015, I was appointed as a member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, where I now serve as Vice Secretary of the Biomedical Class. I am the recipient of multiple federal grants and foundation grants and serve on numerous national and international scientific review committees regarding research on the consequences of childhood trauma. I am a member of Penn State’s newly established Child Maltreatment Solutions Network.
- Impact Factor: 495
- Citations (Google Scholar): >21,400
- H-Index (Google Scholar): 57
- H-Index (Web of Science): 41
- H-Index (Research Gate): 54
- RG Score: 42.2 (>97.5th percentile)
- Houtepen LC, Vinkers CH, Carrillo-Roa T, Hiemstra M, van Lier PA, Meeus W, Branje S, Heim CM, Nemeroff CB, Mill J, Schalkwyk LC, Creyghton MP, Kahn RS, Joëls M, Binder EB, Boks MP. Genome-wide DNA methylation levels and altered cortisol stress reactivity following childhood trauma in humans. Nat Commun 2016;7:10967.
- Klengel T, Mehta D, Anacker C, Rex-Haffner M, Pruessner JC, Pariante CM, Pace, TWW, Mercer KB, Mayberg HS, Bradley B, Nemeroff CB, Holsboer F, Heim CM, Ressler KJ, Rein T, Binder EB. Allele-specific DNA demethylation in FKBP5: a molecular mediator of gene x childhood trauma interactions. Nature Neuroscience 2013;16:33-41.
- Heim C, Mayberg HS, Mletzko T, Nemeroff CB, Pruessner JC. Decreased cortical representation of genital somatosensory field after childhood sexual abuse. Am J Psychiatry 2013;170:616-623.
- Heim C, Young LJ, Newport DJ, Mletzko TC, Miller AH, Nemeroff CB. Lower CSF oxytocin concentrations in women with a history of childhood abuse. Mol Psychiatry 2009;14: 954-958.
- Heim C, Nater UM, Maloney EB, Boneva R, Jones JF, Reeves WC. Childhood trauma and risk for chronic fatigue syndrome: Association with neuroendocrine dysfunction. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2009;66: 72-80.
- Lupien SJ, McEwen BS, Gunnar M, Heim C. Effects of stress throughout the lifespan on brain, behavior and cognition. Nature Rev Neurosci 2009;10:434-445.
- Heim C, Mletzko T, Purselle D, Musselman D, Nemeroff CB. The dexamethasone/CRF test in men with major depression: Role of childhood trauma. Biol Psychiatry 2008;63: 398-405.
- Bradley RG, Binder EB, Epstein MP, Tang Y, Nair HP, Liu W, Gillespie CF, Berg T, Evces M, Newport DJ, Stowe ZN, Heim C, Nemeroff CB, Schwartz A, Cubells JF, Ressler KJ. Influence of child abuse on adult depression: moderation by the corticotropin-releasing hormone receptor gene. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2008;65: 190-200.
- Binder EB, Bradley RG, Liu W, Epstein MP, Deveau TC, Mercer KB, Tang Y, Gillespie CF, Heim C, Nemeroff CB, Schwartz AC, Cubells JF, Ressler KJ. Association of FKBP5 polymorphisms and childhood abuse with risk of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in adults. JAMA 2008;299: 1291-1305.
- Heim C, Plotsky PM, Nemeroff CB. The importance of evaluating the contributions of early adverse experience to the neurobiology of depression. Neuropsychopharmacology 2004;29: 641–648.
- Nemeroff CB, Heim C, Thase ME, Rush AJ, Schatzberg AF, Ninan PT, Klein DN, McCullough JP, Weiss P, Dunner DL, Rothbaum BO, Kornstein S, Keitner G, Keller MB. Differential responses to psychotherapy versus pharmacotherapy in the treatment of patients with chronic forms of major depression and childhood trauma. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA 2003;100: 14293-14296. PMCID: PMC283585
- Vythilingam M, Heim C, Newport DJ, Miller AH, Vermetten E, Anderson E, Bronen R, Staib L, Charney DS, Nemeroff CB, Bremner JD. Childhood trauma associated with smaller hippocampal volume in women with major depression. Am J Psychiatry 2002;159: 2072-2080.
- Heim C, Nemeroff CB. The role of childhood trauma in the neurobiology of mood and anxiety disorders: Pre-clinical and clinical studies. Biol Psychiatry 2001;49: 1023-1039.
- Heim C, Newport DJ, Bonsall R, Miller AH, Nemeroff CB. Altered pituitary-adrenal axis responses to provocative challenge tests in adult survivors of childhood abuse. Am J Psychiatry 2001;158: 575-581.
- Heim C, Binder EB. Current research trends in early life stress and depression: Review of human studies on sensitive periods, gene-environment interactions, and epigenetics. Experimental Neurology 2001;233:102-111.
- Heim C, Ehlert U, Hellhammer DH. The potential role of hypocortisolism in the pathophysiology of stress-related bodily disorders. Psychoneuroendocrinology 2000;25: 1-35.
- Heim C, Newport DJ, Heit S, Graham YP, Wilcox M, Bonsall R, Miller AH, Nemeroff CB. Increased pituitary-adrenal and autonomic responses to stress in adult women after sexual and physical abuse in childhood. JAMA 2000; 284: 592-597.
Pennsylvania State University
109 Biobehavioral Health Building
University Park PA 16802
Functions / offices
- Head of Department, University professor, Institute of Medical Psychology, Charité Berlin
- Professor, Department of Biobehavioral Health, College of Health and Human Development, Pennsylvania State University
- Principal Investigator, NeuroCure
- Faculty member, Berlin School of Mind & Brain
- Member, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BBAW)
- Faculty Member, Network on Child Maltreatment Solutions, Social Science
Research Institute, College of Health and Human Development, The Pennsylvania
State University, University Park, PA, USA