Between 12-36% of children experience child maltreatment (i.e. emotional, sexual, physical abuse and/or neglect). I found that child maltreatment alters the structure and function of the brain in such a way that individuals are more emotionally vulnerable than those that did not have a negative family environment in early life. This may explain why child maltreatment has a very negative impact on later life emotional, behavioural and academic functioning. For instance, child maltreatment is a strong predictor for the development of major depressive disorder. An estimated 10-25% of individuals that have experienced child maltreatment function normally (or ‘resiliently’) in later life. The goal of this project is to determine what it is that sets these resilient individuals apart on a (neuro)-biological level. We will examine will examine how a resilient brain functions when someone experiences a negative event. We will also examine brain anatomy; what does a resilient brain look like, what are its pathways, and which regions are important? And we will examine how the resilient brain interacts with the immune system.
We will examine resilience in adolescents and young adults (ages 14-24). At these ages the brain goes through major developmental changes, therefore, this period can be described as a crucial time-window in which neurobiological differences are likely to emerge. By studying the adolescent to adult time period we may be able to investigate changes in neurobiological resilience over time, or study when resilient neurobiological changes emerge so that we know at what age vulnerable individuals may benefit most from therapeutical interventions.