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Stress physiology and developmental psychopathology: Past, present, and future

  • Jenalee R. Doom (a1) and Megan R. Gunnar (a1)

Research on the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenocortical (HPA) axis has emerged as a vital area within the field of developmental psychopathology in the past 25 years. Extensive animal research has provided knowledge of the substrates and physiological mechanisms that guide development of stress reactivity and regulation using methods that are not feasible in humans. Recent advances in understanding the anatomy and physiology of the HPA axis in humans and its interactions with other stress-mediating systems, including accurate assessment of salivary cortisol, more sophisticated neuroimaging methods, and a variety of genetic analyses, have led to greater knowledge of how psychological and biological processes impact functioning. A growing body of research on HPA axis regulation and reactivity in relation to psychopathology has drawn increased focus on the prenatal period, infancy, and the pubertal transition as potentially sensitive periods of stress system development in children. Theories such as the allostatic load model have guided research by integrating multiple physiological systems and mechanisms by which stress can affect mental and physical health. However, almost none of the prominent theoretical models in stress physiology are truly developmental, and future work must incorporate how systems interact with the environment across the life span in normal and atypical development. Our theoretical advancement will depend on our ability to integrate biological and psychological models. Researchers are increasingly realizing the importance of communication across disciplinary boundaries in order to understand how experiences influence neurobehavioral development. It is important that knowledge gained over the past 25 years has been translated to prevention and treatment interventions, and we look forward to the dissemination of interventions that promote recovery from adversity.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests: Jenalee R. Doom, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, 51 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455; E-mail:
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Development and Psychopathology
  • ISSN: 0954-5794
  • EISSN: 1469-2198
  • URL: /core/journals/development-and-psychopathology
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