Our Research

There are currently 4 primary studies underway in the lab.

I. Antenatal Corticosteroids, Maternal Depression and Preterm Infant Stress Response

NICHD RO1 HD081188

In this study, we are examining the effect of fetal exposure to both exogenous corticosteroids and mother’s stress hormones on development of the infant’s ability to regulate stress, as evidenced in the infant’s neuroendocrine, autonomic, and affective responses associated with stress over the preterm infant’s first 12 months of life. We are also studying the effects of stress hormones during pregnancy on infant telomere length and the moderating effect of maternal depression on infant stress-related responses from birth to 1 year of age. Lastly, the study provides data on factors associated with perinatal and postpartum depression as well as the course of depression over time. Both biomarkers and social determinants are key areas of focus, as well as how they interact to influence stress regulation and depression.


II. Moderators of Maternal Depression’s Relationship to Mother-Infant Interaction

NICHD  RO1 HD084813

In this multi-site study, we are identifying qualities of mother-infant interaction among women at high risk of postpartum depression and determining the effects of maternal depression on mother-infant interaction across the 1st year of life. Videos of interaction are being coded for over 700 infants and their mothers at different time points, providing data on variables such as maternal sensitivity to distress, stimulation of development, intrusiveness, detachment, positive and negative regard, maternal and infant mood, and dyadic mutuality. A key focus of the research is to determine whether sociodemographic adversity (e.g. poverty, trauma), infant phenotypes (e.g. neonatal morbidity, temperament), and maternal co-morbidities (e.g. anxiety, substance abuse) moderate the effects of a mother's depression on her capacity for optimal interactions with her infant.  


III. Fetal Programming of the Microbiome and its Mediating Role in Infant Stress Dysregulation

Robert C. and Delphine Wentland Eschbach Endowment                                        

We are studying biomarkers of maternal stress (cortisol, C-reactive protein, IL-6, IL-1b, and TNF-a) during pregnancy to determine their relationship to diversity of the infant microbiome and potential dysbiosis in beneficial versus pathogenic microbiota. We then relate these microbial characteristics to infant neuroendocrine, autonomic and behavioral reactivity in response to stress, providing knowledge of how fetal experience may program the infant’s Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis and problems in managing stress. In this research, we are also looking at the relationship between microbial dysbiosis and infant telomere length.


IV. Characterizing the Context, Symptoms and Treatment of Women Who Experience Mood Disorders

National Network of Depression Centers 

This study is a multi-site investigation involving 14 Universities that are part of the National Network of Depression Centers (NNDC). The overall goal of the study is to better understand the etiology, triggers, symptoms, co-morbidity, and treatment of women who experience depression, stress, and anxiety. We are examining 1) whether the prevalence of symptoms or symptom profiles differ across age groups or reproductive stages, 2) how women's sociodemographic context, history of adversity and mental illness, or types of treatment are associated with different symptom profiles, and 3) whether symptom profiles differ across clinical settings (e.g. primary care, OB/GYN, psychiatry) where women are being seen. The research builds upon a collaborative infrastructure and registry of pooled data designed by the Women & Mood Disorders Research Group of the NNDC.