Ryan Bogdan, Ph.D.

Fellow in Child & Adolescent Depression

Project Details


Joan Luby, M.D.


Washington University in St. Louis


Biological Mechanisms Underlying the Link between Early Adversity and Depression


Biological Mechanisms Underlying the Link between Early Adversity and Depression


Early life adversity is among the most potent risk factors for depression; however, the mechanisms underlying this association remain poorly understood.  Research suggests that both early life stress and depression are associated with: 1) stress system dysregulation, 2) elevated systemic inflammation, and 3) shortening of telomeres (i.e., the protective ends of chromosomes preserving cellular integrity) indicating that these factors are putative mechanisms though which early life adversity may ‘get under the skin’ to promote the development of depression. This KGTF research project will examine associations between early life adversity, depression, and biomarkers of stress and immune system function, and cellular integrity. Moreover, we will test whether genetic variation might place individuals at greater risk for stress-related dysfunction across these systems. A sample of children (n=100), aged 9-15, already participating in the Preschool Depression Study (PI: Joan Luby), an ongoing prospective longitudinal study of children designed to inform our understanding of early childhood depression, will be recruited. We will collect blood samples from these children and rely upon past and ongoing assessments of adversity exposure, depression, and other measures (e.g., fMRI) to test putative mechanisms through which the depressogenic effects of stress may arise. Investigating the relationships among stress system function, immune function, and cellular integrity in the context of early-life stress exposure and genetic variation can advance our understanding of mechanisms shaping risk for childhood depression. This knowledge, in turn, may eventually contribute to the isolation of novel pharmacologic and psychotherapeutic targets for depression and possibly, prevention.

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