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Group leaders: Daniel Schechter & Sandra Rusconi Serpa

Group name: Geneva Early Childhood Stress Project

Affiliation: Psychiatry

Research activities:

The Geneva Early Childhood Stress Project integrates multiple scientific methods towards the testing of our main hypothesis that normative distress in infancy and early childhood poses a formidable stress to traumatized parents, thereby leading to problems of psychophysiologic regulation within the parent-child relationship during sensitive periods in very young children's social-emotional development. Our group is specifically examining what effects maternal violence-related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and related comorbid conditions might have on mother-child interaction in both psychological and behavioral terms, as well as in terms of associated stress-reactivity within the HPA-axis and autonomic nervous system in both mothers and children. The present study underway relies also on the use of functional neuroimaging and genetics to identify endophenotypes that might contribute to risk vs. resilience. To this end the project collaborates with the Department of Medical Genetics and Development for genetic and epigenetic analyses (Ariane Giacobino). The study is both cross-sectional and longitudinal, in that it examines individual child outcomes, as well as endophenotypic patterns in mothers and their children over time. Our research group is also engaged in the manualization and development of evidence-based interventions to address the psychophysiologic dysregulation in traumatized families and to reduce the likelihood of intergenerational transmission of trauma and violence. The Geneva Early Childhood Stress Project is a component study of the SNSF-funded NCCR: Synaptic Basis of Mental Diseases (SYNAPSY). Within the recent re-configuration of this NCCR-SYNAPSY, the project has become an essential part of "Axis II" which is composed of clinical and basic neuroscience projects that focus on the impact of environmental factors, principally early life stress on biology and developmental psychopathology (Axis II Leader and Research Team Member : Alexandre Dayer). The Geneva Early Childhood Stress Project is directed by Co-Principal Investigators Daniel Schechter and Sandra Rusconi Serpa, and works in tandem with its translational counterpart involving a rodent-model under the direction of Maria Isabel Cordero and Carmen Sandi (EPFL) . The Geneva Early Childhood Stress Project also functions under the auspices of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Service's Research Unit (Chief of Service : Franois Ansermet ; Research Unit Chief and Co-Principal Investigator: Sandra Rusconi Serpa). The Early Childhood Stress Project also has received and continues to receive additional private funding.

Group website: http://spea.hug-ge.ch/recherche_publications/projets.html

Selected Publications:

  • Schechter DS, Moser DA, Wang Z, Marsh R, Hao XJ, Duan Y, Yu S, Gunter B, Murphy D, McCaw J, Kangarlu A, Willheim E, Myers MM, Hofer MA, Peterson BS (2012). An fMRI study oft he brain responses of tramatized mothers to viewing their toddlers during separation and play. Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience, 7(8), 969-979.
  • Schechter DS, Willheim E, McCaw J, Turner JB, Myers MM, Zeanah CH (2011). The relationship of violent fathers, posttraumatically stressed mothers and symptomatic children in a preschool-age inner-city pediatrics clinic sample. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26(18), 3699-3719.
  • Schechter DS, Willheim E, Hinojosa C, Scholfield-Kleinman, K, Turner JB, McCaw J, Zeanah CH, Myers MM (2010). Subjective and objective measures of parent-child relationship dysfunction, child separation distress, and joint attention. Psychiatry: Interpersonal and Biological Processes, 73(2), 130-144

Unit de Recherche, Service de Psychiatrie de l'Enfant et de l'Adolescent
Hpitaux Universitaires de Genve
Email: Daniel (dot) Schechter (at) hcuge (dot) ch