From the Director: Tallie Z. Baram, MD, PHD
Welcome to the Conte Center @ UCI!
With you, we are striving to understand how the experiences, both positive and negative, of infants and young children influence the maturation of their brains. These changes, in turn, may increase vulnerability or resilience of children, adolescents and adults to mental health issues including drug use, depression and memory problems. Perusing our website, you will learn why we study these questions; your will also find descriptions of our team, our studies, and our discoveries. WE hope you find helpful tools that we share with interested people and investigators of several disciplines. You will witness our many activities and projects, quite a few of which are open to all.
Our Silvio O. Conte Center at the University of California-Irvine (UCI) has been funded by the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) since April 2013. Since then, our team of investigators—with numerous affiliates and collaborators-- has focused on identifying the important signals from the parents and the early-life environment that help shape the trajectory of infants and children’s cognitive and emotional development.
We all know that in addition to our genes, our experiences early-in life shape who we are. It is well established that adversity early in life, including lack of resources, neglect or violence are associated with increased vulnerability to mental illnesses and cognitive problems later in life. In the Conte Center, we have identified and additional little-known aspect of early experiences that crucially impacts outcomes: regular, predictable parental and environmental signals to the developing brain promote optimal maturation of complex components leading to cognitive and mental well-being. By contrast, unpredictable, chaotic signals from parents and the immediate environment contribute to mental and cognitive difficulties in children and adolescents and increased risk for problems such as drug-use, risk-taking and depression.
How do unpredictable signals influence the maturation and organization of the developing brain? Our investigators study infants, children, adolescents, and young adults numerous and cutting–edge investigation tools to assess neurodevelopment and mental functions. We employ sophisticated and cutting-edge brain imaging to probe the trajectories of brain organization. We employ experimental systems such as mice and rats to determine how individual brain cells and brain circuits and their organization are influenced by early-life experiences, with the hope of translating these discoveries back to children.
Our Work has resulted in the development of novel and useful tools for research groups and clinics 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