ACE Characteristics

These projects focus on factors contributing to elevated risk or resilience with respect to the development of mental and somatic disorders after ACE, particularly regarding type, timing, and intensity of ACE. The influence of these factors on alterations in human brain morphometry will be studied in project A1. The influence of type, timing and intensity will be studied in an animal model (A2), which will also be used in project C4. Within the RTG, we will be able to combine data from several existing samples of affected individuals: data from a recently started prospective study on refugee children (A3) as well as an ongoing large-scale prospective community study (A4). The RTG duration of maximal nine years will give the opportunity to cover critical developmental periods and allow consecutive follow-up investigations, which will give rise to various new projects.

Brain Morphometry (A1)

Type and Timing of ACE and Brain Morphological Alterations

ACE have been postulated to be associated with morphological alterations of the brain. First evidence hints at certain vulnerable periods in which traumatisation is associated with damage of regions such as hippocampus and amygdala. However, these studies need to be replicated in larger samples. Furthermore, the influence of specific types as well as the timing of ACE needs to be investigated. The planned doctoral projects will tackle these questions and also look at neuropsychological deficits related to these morphological alterations.

Principal Investigators: C. Schmahl, G. Ende

PhD Student: Claudius von Schröder

Neurobiology (A2)

The Impact of Early Social Adversity on Social and Emotional Competence in Later Life and the Underlying Neurobiological Mechanisms

This project studies consequences of early social adversity (ESA) on social competence and emotional behaviour throughout lifetime in rats. Longitudinal studies in rats allow to systematically examine (i) the underlying neurobiological mechanisms of effects of ESA and (ii) its mediators such as ESA type, timing, intensity, and gender. The planned PhD projects will obtain a causal mechanistic understanding of the molecular underpinnings of the pathological behavioural consequences of ESA. Different techniques from longitudinal behavioural analysis in the social and emotional domains to neuroanatomical techniques, and the use of virus-mediated gene transfer and novel transgenic rat models will be applied.

Principal Investigators: R. Spanagel, A.C. Hansson

PhD Student: Akseli Surakka

Risk Factors (A3)

Risk Factors and Vulnerable Time Periods for Development and Mental Health in Refugee Children and Adolescents

War-related violence and flight are particularly severe ACE. To date, research on resilience-supporting factors in the receiving social environment (host community) is confined to observational studies. The arrival of a large quantity of refugee children over a very short time in Germany (10-2015 to 3-2016) and the subsequent distribution of children to differing communities offers a unique opportunity for doctoral projects to evaluate heterogeneous communities or neighbourhood factors and their interaction with resilience-supporting family factors, individual exposure to trauma on the long-term developmental and mental health trajectory in refugee children aged 5-14 years.

Principal Investigators: J. E. Fischer, J. Lindert

PhD Student: Shaymaa Abdelhamid

Resilience Factors (A4)

Resilience Factors in the Mannheim Study of Children at Risk

ACE have been linked to a broad range of psychiatric disorders from both the externalizing and the internalizing spectrum. So far, however, it is unclear why some individuals develop a disorder while others continue to demonstrate psychobiological allostasis. In this context, it has been suggested that protective factors may play an important role in counteracting ACE. The planned doctoral projects will engage in this topic by elucidating resilience from a multilevel perspective, i.e., taking (social) environmental, genetic, personality, hormonal, and neural factors into account.

Principal Investigators: T. Banaschewski, N. Holz

PhD Student: Eline Kraaijenvanger