Network Faculty Member Earns Award Lecture

Christine Heim, Professor of Biobehavioral Health and Child Maltreatment Solutions Network faculty member, recently received the Patricia R. Barchas Award Lecture at the 2015 Annual American Psychosomatic Society Meeting. The award recognizes outstanding contributions to the field of Sociophysiology, which is the study of the reciprocal relationships between social behavior and physiology.

Dr. Heim’s lecture entitled “Neurobiological Consequences of Early-Life Adversity," explored how social-emotional adversity in early life, such as child abuse and neglect, is a well-established risk factor for developing a range of psychiatric and medical disorders later in life. Specifically, Dr. Heim’s research has found that childhood trauma is associated with sensitization of the neuroendocrine and autonomic stress response, glucocorticoid resistance, decreased oxytocin activity, inflammation, reduced hippocampal volume, and changes in cortical fields that are implicated in the perception or processing of abuse. These biological changes are moderated by genetic factors and mediated by epigenetic changes in genes relevant for stress regulation. Epigenetics changes are chemical reactions that activate and deactivate parts of the genome at strategic times and in specific locations.

Dr. Heim studies long-term consequences of childhood trauma by intersecting clinical and developmental psychobiology. She uses a multidisciplinary approach, combining psychology, neuroscience, and developmental science to study the effects of childhood trauma. Her work is aimed at identifying new approaches for the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of adverse outcomes stemming from early trauma.

You can contact Dr. Heim at cmh417@psu.edu.