From the Director
With you, we are striving to understand how the constantly evolving environment that infants and young children experience in our modern and chaotic world influences the structural and functional maturation of the brain. These changes, in turn, may increase the vulnerability of children, adolescents, and adults to several mental illnesses. Throughout our website, you will find descriptions of our team, studies, and discoveries. You will find helpful tools we share with investigators of several disciplines and with interested people. You will also find our activities and projects, several of which we share with everyone.
Our Silvio O. Conte Center at the University of California-Irvine (UCI) was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in April 2013. Since then, our team of investigators – with numerous collaborators – has been focused on identifying the important aspects of signals from the parents and the early-life environment that help shape the trajectory of cognitive and emotional development. Numerous studies and efforts are devoted to this fundamental and important question, because, in addition to our genes, our experiences early in life shape who we are. Our Center focuses on a particular question: we ask if unpredictable and fragmented signals from parents and the immediate environment (in addition to other well-known factors) contribute to mental and cognitive difficulties in children and adolescents and increased risk for problems such as drug-use, risk-taking, and depression.
Disruption of predictable parental and environmental signals may result from war, socio-economic factors – perhaps even from rampant unpredictable smartphone use. How do unpredictable, fragmented signals influence the maturation and organization of the developing brain? Our investigators study infants, children, adolescents and young adults using many tools to assess neurodevelopment and mental functions. We employ sophisticated and cutting-edge brain imaging to probe the trajectories of brain organization. We use experimental systems such as mice and rats to investigate exactly how individual brain cells, as well as brain connections and their organization, are influenced by early-life experiences, with the hope of translating these discoveries back to children.
In addition, we develop novel and useful tools for other people around the world. These include ways to mathematically quantify parental care signals, to easily assess unpredictability via questionnaires, to image and analyze brain organization in a powerful manner and across both humans and rodents, and to analyze and parse the Big Data that these studies generate.
Thank you for your interest – and welcome to the Conte Center@UCI.
Tallie Z. Baram, MD, PhD
Director, Conte Center@UCI