Stress and Brain Development Relationships

The relationships between stress and brain development has been a focus of PIRI research and led to longitudinal research in high-risk preterm infants (NHMRC 2006-13) and in children whose mothers have been treated with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for depression in pregnancy (NARSAD 2016-17)

Preterm infants:
PremieStart, developed by PIRI, is an intervention for parents trained to reduce the stress experienced by their preterm infant whilst staying in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (for more information on the intervention click here). Our landmark publications have demonstrated improved infant brain structure and white matter connectivity (visible on MRI scans) (Milgrom et al., 2010) as well as a positive impact on early infant development (Milgrom et al., 2013) following this stress reduction intervention.

We have recently published the primary outcomes from a large NHMRC-funded RCT of PremieStart (Milgrom, Martin, et al., 2019) and several associated publications are in preparation for peer reviewed journals. We are currently funded by Austin Medical Research Fund for a 9-year follow up academic achievement in children from this cohort.

Children whose mothers were treated with CBT for antenatal depression:
In a recent exploratory study, we examined whether CBT for maternal antenatal depression ameliorates the offspring’s brain structure. Promising results were found suggesting increased cortical thickness, increased gray matter concentration and reduced connectivity in several brain regions (Bleker, Milgrom, et al. 2019)