MDI Biological Laboratory

James A. Coffman, Ph.D., Discusses How Stress Experienced During Early Development Programs Adult Disease Risk in Webinar

  • April 13, 2017

The work of MDI Biological Laboratory scientist James A. Coffman, Ph.D., on the subject of how chronic stress experienced during early development epigenetically programs adult disease risk was the subject of a live webinar on April 13 sponsored by Neurology Central, an online publication based in the United Kingdom. 

To view the webinar, click here.

Chronic psychosocial stress contributes significantly to public health problems endemic to the modern world, many of which have been linked to chronic inflammation. Epidemiological studies have shown that chronic stress experienced very early in life — even prenatally — increases the risk of developing inflammatory disease in adulthood, including mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.

In the webinar, Coffman discusses how chronically elevated glucocorticoid (corticosteroid) signaling is one mechanism that has been hypothesized to account for this correlation and how, consistent with this, chronic exposure to elevated corticosteroids during early development has been found to have long-term effects on adult behavior and immunoregulation.

The webinar covers such topics as

  • How adult disease risk is linked to psychosocial stress early in life
  • How animal models chronically exposed to low-dose cortisol during early development develop into adults that misexpress immunoregulatory genes and display aberrant circadian rhythms

Coffman is a developmental biologist whose research is focused on the problem of developmental plasticity, specifically on how exposure to environmental stressors during early development can program adult anatomy and physiology. His work addresses how networks of genes and their protein products work to direct development, a problem he has been working on for over 25 years, beginning as a postdoctoral associate of the late Eric H. Davidson, Ph.D., at the California Institute of Technology.

His work also addresses how environmental stressors perturb the activities of transcription factors with key developmental roles, thus influencing the course of development.