Early Life Stress, Hormones, and Neurodevelopmental Disorders.
Early life stress (ELS) describes a broad spectrum of adverse and stressful prenatal events, namely, prenatal maternal stress (PMS), or early postnatal events, which can have detrimental long-term influences on the physiology, cognition, and behavior of an individual. There is abundant evidence indicating that ELS exerts its lasting effects on the physical and mental health of the individual, likely acting through a number of mediating mechanisms, including the disruption of developmental programming of the fetus. Neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs), for example, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), are a group of conditions that typically manifest during infancy, childhood, or adolescence and are characterized by developmental deficits in various domains.
The scope of the current mini-review is to provide an up-to-date summary of the findings regarding the association of ELS and NDDs and the possible hormonal mechanisms through which PMS exerts its impact on neurodevelopment. We focus on the available evidence regarding children and adolescents diagnosed with ADHD or ASD. ELS exposure during developmental vulnerability windows may increase the risk for either subclinical neuropsychological alterations or clinical conditions, such as NDDs. In fact, a large body of evidence underlies the association of ELS exposure and increased risk for NDDs in the offspring.
The majority of data suggest that ELS, including PMS, may be associated with ADHD and ASD in the offspring, although there is no consensus regarding the critical developmental periods. Carefully controlled prospective studies are needed to determine the possible causal processes and mechanisms underlying the association of ELS and NDDs.