June 2024

6/20/24: Check out our latest publication from our group, "Individual longitudinal changes in DNA-methylome identify signatures of early-life adversity and correlate with later outcome." Learn more here.

6/5/24: Congratulations to Dr. Tallie Z. Baram for being award the Senior Investigator Award from the International Society of Developmental Psychobiology (ISDP). Additionally, Dr. Baram was awarded the UCI School of Medicine Lifetime Research Achievement Award.

6/5/24: 6/5/24: The UCI California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine, an offshoot of the UCI Conte Center, had its research highlighted by the CA Governer's Office of Planning and Research. Learn more here.

January 2024

1/8/2024: Save the date for the Conte Center 11th Annual Symposium on March 26, 2024. Learn more here.

September 2023


Congratulations to UCI Conte Center Member, Nora Harhen, on being awarded an F31 grant. The grant will explore the impact of early life unpredictability on reciprocal interactions between reward and memory systems and how this may produce later susceptibility to mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

August 2023


Tallie Baram, MD, PhD, along with research scientist Yuncai Chen, PhD, and Steve Mahler, PhD, have been awarded an R01 funded by NIMH. Their grant “On circuit mechanisms of reward behaviors after early-life adversity” focuses on the sex-specific mental health consequences of early-life stress. See here for the UCI press release. 

Supporting future generations of researchers | UCI News | UCI

Photo of Director, Tallie Z. Baram

July 2023


UCI Conte Center Seed award winner Katharine Simon, a pediatric psychologist, was recently awarded a 5-year K08 award by the NIH. Focusing on the link between adolescent depression, sleep, and memory, Simon's research will explore how insufficient sleep impacts memory in those experiencing depression. Through yearlong tasks, participants' sleep and mood will be monitored, shedding light on this vital relationship. Learn more about the research here.

Congratulations to our Seed Grant Awardees!

The Conte Center@UCI is thrilled to announce the
2023-2024 seed grant awardees.

Project 1:
"The contribution of the hippocampal circuit to social behavior deficits following early life adversity."

Matthew BirnieBenjamin Gunn

Co-PI: Matthew Birnie, PhD
Assistant Project Scientist
Department of Pediatrics
School of Medicine, UCI
Co-PI: Benjamin Gunn, PhD
Assistant Project Scientist
Anatomy and Neurobiology
School of Medicine, UCI

Project 2:
"Exploring a novel role for affective brain processing during sleep in shaping mental wellbeing in the face of adversity"

Eitan Schechtman

PI: Eitan Schechtman, PhD
Assistant Professor
Neurobiology and Behavior
School of Biological Sciences, UCI


May 2023

5/1/2023: The Conte Center @ UCI is soliciting applications for up to 4 grants. Each grant will be funded up to $30,000 for innovative basic and translational research projects focusing on brain plasticity, including how experiences may influence the brain and thus contribute to vulnerability to cognitive and mental illness. See here for more details.



February 2023

2/27/23: Research from lead authors, Matthew Birnie and Annabel Short, was recently published in Nature Communications. They found that Stress-induced plasticity of a CRH/GABA projection disrupts reward behaviors in mice. Click here for the UCI Press Release.

2/23/23: Research from lead author, Cassandra Kooiker, was recently highlighted in Science. She found that genetic tagging uncovers a robust, selective activation of the thalamic paraventricular nucleus by adverse experiences early in life. Click here for the full publication.




January 2023

Conte Center Research featured on New Scientist!

1/10/23: Research in mice, from Dr. Tallie Z. Baram, suggests that a newly identified brain pathway may be the reason childhood
adversity increases the risk of mental health issues as an adult, which was featured on New Scientist. Click here to access the full-text PDF article.




October 2022

10/28/22: Save the date for our 10th Annual Conte Center Symposium which will be on Pi Day, March 14, 2023. Check our symposium page for the most up to date information. 

10/2/22: A recent article on featured Conte Center Project leader Dr. Victoria Risbrough. She discussed why having an unpredictable childhood can be traumatizing. Click here to access the full research paper.




June 2022

Conte Center@UCI Publishes in Science!


The theme of the Conte Center@UCI is now published in Science! The article was written by Dr. Matthew Birnie and Dr. Tallie Z. Baram, and finds parents’ unpredictable behavior may impair optimal brain circuit formation. Click here for the publication or click here for the UCI press release.






Conte Center Research featured on The Conversation!

Predictable and consistent parental behavior is key for optimal child brain development was the main takeaway from a recent article from Dr. Tallie Z. Baram, which was featured on The Conversation. Click here to access the full article.

Congratulations to Rachael Hokenson!

Congratulations to Rachael Hokenson for receiving the Gazzinaga Family Award as well as being accepted to participate on a T32 award.

May 2022

Seed Grant Winners Update

Congratulations to Katharine Simon, PhD, Postdoctoral Scholar within the Department of Cognitive Sciences, for being the second project to receive the 2022-2023 Conte Center Seed Grants.

Title: "Longitudinal Impact of Sleep and Depression on Sleep-Dependent Cognition Across the Adolescent Transition” Click here for more information.



Congratulations to Briac Halbout, PhD and Steven Grieco, PhD, Assistant Project Scientists within UCI's School of Medicine, for being the first project to receive the 2022-2023 Conte Center Seed Grants.

Title: "The Impact of Early Life Adversity on Behaviors Guided by Reward-Paired Cue and their Underlying Circuitry” Click here for more information.



Congratulations to Dr. Sophia Levis for completing her PhD!

Below are some of Sophia's numerous accomplishments:

  • Sophie Levis, an A&N MSTP student co-mentored by Baram & Mahler defended her thesis on April 27, 2022
  • Sophie has 6 papers (one in prep, one revised and resubmitted, 4 out) from her thesis (2018-2022).
  • Sophie received numerous awards: local (CNLM; 2020), National (very prestigious and competitive ACNP travel award 2021) and one international (one of only 2 abstracts selected for presentation in Paris at the FENS meeting; 2022)
  • Sophie competed successfully for her own NIH F30 predoctoral grant.


March 2022

UCI School of Medicine Press Release

3/29/22: UCI Conte Center led study links early life adversity, microglia dysfunction, to aberrant adult stress responses, mental illness. See here for full press release.

Below is a video of live interactions of microglia (green) and stress-sensitive neurons (red) in the brain of a neonatal transgenic mouse.


February 2022

Stemming the Rising Mental Health Crisis: UCI researchers help illuminate the complexities of the mind and find solutions to prevent a twin pandemic.

2/9/22: UCI researchers are recognized in an article written by Christine Byrd. For the full article, click here.

Open Postdoctoral Scholar Position - APPLY NOW

2/9/22: The Baram Lab is soliciting applications for an open Postdoctoral position. Full details here.


February 2022

$57.75 million Gift to UCI

2/7/22: Audrey Steele Burnand estate gifts $57.75 million to UCI to fund the creation of a new campuswide center that will pursue research into the causes and treatment of depression and also suppor the UCI-managed Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center. Full details here. LA Times Coverage Here


January 2022

Seed Funding Opportunity

The Conte Center @ UCI is soliciting applications for up to 4 grants. Each grant will be funded up to $30,000 for innovative basic or translational research projects focusing on brain plasticity, including how experiences influence the brain and may thus contribute to vulnerability to cognitive and mental illness. Full details here.


December 2021

Conte Center@UCI Research Accepted into Journal of Biological Psychiatry

Biological Psychiatry: Global Open Science has published the paper from Dr. Annabel Short and project 1 team of Conte Center titled, "Single-Cell Transcriptional Changes in Hypothalamic Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone Expressing Neurons After Early-Life Adversity Inform Enduring Alterations in Vulnerabilities to Stress" for publication. This new paper uses single-cell transcriptomics to look at stress-regulating CRH cells in developing hypothalamus. Combined data-and neuroscience-driven clustering identifies novel populations, which are specifically targeted by early-life stress. Click here for the paper. 


December 2021

Covid 19 Research Featured in US Surgeon General Highlights

Research performed at the Conte Center has been cited in the US Surgeon General's Youth Mental Health Advisory. Specifically, the Surgeon General highlights the center's work on the impact of COVID-19 on children's mental health and proposes adopting our mitigation strategies. Click Here for more information from the US Surgeon General.


November 2021

Congratulations Dr. Matthew Birnie!

Matthew Birnie

Dr. Matthew Birnie recently received a highly competitive research grant from The British Society of Neuroendocrinology. Dr. Birnie was awarded roughly $8,000 to help contribute to his research projects.





November 2021

Congratulations Rachael Hokenson!

Rachael Hokenson recently received the ARCS Scholar Award from the ARCS Foundation Inc Orange County chapter. The award recognizes academically superior doctoral students who exhibit outstanding promise as scientists, researchers and leaders. For more information about the ARCS Scholar Award, click here.




September 2021

Seed Grant Winners Update

Congratulations to Dr. Kristina Uban, Assistant Professor within the Department of Health, Society & Behavior, as she is the final recipient of the 2021 Conte Center Seed Grants. For the project description, click here.





September 2021

Seed Grant Winners Update

Congratulations to Dr. Justin Shobe and Dr. Elham Ghanbarian, Assistant Project Scientists within the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, who are the first of two recipients of the 2021 Conte Center Seed Grants. For the project abstract, click here.




September 2021

Congratulations Sabrina Liu!

Sabrina Liu has earned the following awards and fellowships:

Award for Outstanding Dissertation in the Field of Trauma Psychology- This is awarded to one recent graduate each year by APA Division 56, which is the Division of Trauma Psychology. This award recognizes the most outstanding dissertation in the prior academic year on a topic in the field of trauma psychology.

APA Minority Fellowship Program Psychology Summer Institute- This fellowship provides professional development and personal mentoring to advanced doctoral students, and early career professionals focused on clinical research and services for populations of color.

LEAD Institute Fellow Award- Division 53 (Society of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology) provides graduate students and early career professionals from diverse groups professional development and leadership skills.


July 2021

Congratulations Sophie Levis!

Sophia Levis is one of 5 MD/PhD and other dual degree candidates who received Travel Awards for the 2021 American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP) 60th Annual Meeting. Overall there were over 300 applicants to the various types of awards with about a 20% success rate. ACNP will support Sophie's airfare, registration fees, and meals.





June 2021

Congratulations Cassandra Kooiker!

Cassie KooikerCassandra Kooiker, an MD/PhD candidate received a phenomenal score of top 1% for her individual NIH predoctoral grant application (F30).






June 2021

Seed Funding Opportunity

The Conte Center @ UCI is soliciting applications for up to 4 grants. Each grant will be funded up to $30,000 for innovative basic or translational research projects focusing on brain plasticity, including how early-life experiences influence the brain and may thus contribute to vulnerability to cognitive and mental illness. Full details here.


May 2021

Cassie and Matt's research on the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus

Cassie KooikerIn their new review paper, Cassie and Matt describe the role of the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus (PVT) as an encoder and integrator of emotionally salient experiences occurring early in life. This paper is available in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience: The Paraventricular Thalamus: A Potential Sensor and Integrator of Emotionally Salient Early-Life Experiences (link to paper).




April 2021

Sophie's research on the link between early-life adversity and addiction vulnerability

In a new review paper, Sophie describes the link between early-life adversity (ELA) and addiction vulnerability, summarizing alterations in behavioral phenotypes and reward and stress brain circuits in rodent models of ELA. This paper is available in European Journal of Neuroscience: Neurodevelopmental origins of substance use disorders: Evidence from animal models of early-life adversity and addiction (link to paper).




March 2021

Dr. Baram receives award from the California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine

Congratulations to Dr. Baram for receiving an award from the California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine for the proposal: “Using Precision Medicine to Tackle Impacts of Adverse and Unpredictable Experiences on Children’s Neurodevelopment.” The team aims to screen 100,000 Orange County children to deliver interventions for those most at risk (link to information from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and link to UCI School of Medicine press release).


February 2021

Sophie's research on opioid use disorder and other comorbid disorders

In a new review paper, Sophie reports how early life adversity alters the development of reward circuitry and describes how this reward system dysfunction and resulting anhedonia may be a common thread between opioid use disorder and other comorbid disorders. This paper is available in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience: The Developmental Origins of Opioid Use Disorder and Its Comorbidities (link to paper).




January 2021

Gracie and Jonathan awarded a UROP fellowship

Congratulations to Gracie and Johnathan for being awarded a UROP fellowship for their project “The Effects of Early-Life Adversity on Entropy of Maternal Behavior” under the supervision of Dr. Bolton and Dr. Baram!


December 2020

Jessica, Yuncai, and Noriko's research on how early life adversity leads to memory problems

Jessica, Yuncai and Noriko discover a novel and unexpected mechanism for how early life adversity re-programs the hippocampus and leads to memory problems. Combining cool big-data, mechanistic interventions and going from behavior to molecules they find that both GR and NRSF mediate the enduring effects of ELA on hippocampal structure and function. This paper is available in Cell ReportsUnexpected transcriptional programs contribute to hippocampal memory deficits and neuronal stunting after early-life adversity (link to paper).


August 2020

Sophia Levis obtains competitive F30 Training Grant from NIH!

Conte Center @UCI Junior Researcher Sophia Levis receives a highly competitive F30 award. These 3-5 year awards are designed for MD/PhD candidates. Sophie's grant will allow her to investigate the early-life origins of opioid addiction vulnerability, focusing on the role of early-life adversity. Sophie is mentored by Prof. Steve Mahler, a Center affiliate based in the Neurobiology & Behavior department, and Tallie Z. Baram.




May 2020

Matthew T. Birnie, Postdoctoral researcher and Conte Center @UCI Jr. Researcher publishes paper in Biological Psychiatry. 

Our recent publication, "Plasticity of the Reward Circuitry After Early-Life Adversity: Mechanisms and Significance" in Biological Psychiatry, offers researchers the first comprehensive table detailing the development of the reward circuit across species. This is vital for translational research. It allows basic scientists to shed light on how adverse early life experiences may affect circuit development, leading to mental health disorders such as addiction and depression.

Birnie, M. T., Kooiker, C. L., Short, A. K., Bolton, J. L., Chen, Y., & Baram, T. Z. (2020). Plasticity of the Reward Circuitry After Early-Life Adversity: Mechanisms and Significance. Biological Psychiatry, 87(10), 875-884. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2019.12.018



May 2020

Congratulations Rachael Hokenson! 

Conte Center @UCI Junior Researcher Rachael Hokenson receives the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory’s Roger W. Russell Award. The Roger W. Russell Award in the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory is awarded in memory of Dr. Roger W. Russell to recognize an individual who demonstrates dedication to exacting scholarship, integrity, collegiality, and steadfast support of the goals and programs of the CNLM.

Rachael will be honored at the upcoming virtual CNLM Awards Ceremony on May 20th. The award is in the amount of $1,000 and can be used to support any research-related activities including supplies, equipment, books, or travel. Rachael is part of Project 1 and under the mentorship of Prof. Tallie Z. Baram, MD, PhD.


May 2020

Congratulations Sophia Levis! 

Conte Center @UCI Junior Researcher Sophia Levis receives the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory’s Jared M. Roberts Memorial Award. The Jared M. Roberts Memorial Award was established in 2017 by the family, friends and colleagues of Jared Roberts and rewards an exceptional graduate student for outstanding scholarship and collegiality. The award is co-sponsored by UCI’s Graduate Division.

Sophia will be honored at the upcoming virtual CNLM Awards Ceremony on May 20th. The award is in the amount of $1,000 and can be used to support travel to the Winter Neurobiology of Learning and Memory Conference in Park City, UT. Sophia is part of Project 1 and under the mentorship of Prof. Steven Mahler, PhD.


December 2019

Sophia Levis, MD/PhD student and Conte Center @UCI Jr. Researcher publishes paper in Molecular Psychiatry. 

“On the early life origins of vulnerability to opioid addiction”  The study examines how environmental factors such as early life adversity contribute to the development of addiction-related behaviors for opioid drugs.  Sophie and her coauthors found that adversity during early development may be an important risk factor for opioid addiction, particularly in females.

Levis SC, Bentzley BS, Molet J, Bolton JL, Perrone CR, Baram TZ, Mahler SV. On the early life origins of vulnerability to opioid addiction. Mol Psychiatry. 2019 Dec 10. doi: 10.1038/s41380-019-0628-5. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 31822817


November 2019

Honored as AAAS Fellow

Danette Shepard Chair in Neurological Sciences and Conte Center@UCI Director Tallie Z. Baram named Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, for her distinguished contributions to the understanding of childhood and febrile seizures as well as early-life adversity on the brain development and their enduring consequences.  Read full announcement here.


October 2019

Seed Funding Opportunity

The Conte Center@UCI is soliciting applications for 3-5 grants of up to $30,000 each for innovative research projects focusing on how early-life experiences influence the brain and may thus contribute to vulnerability to mental illness.  Full details here


September 2019

Junior Researcher Annabel K. Short, Ph.D., and PI Tallie Z. Baram, MD, Ph.D. publish major review

A major new review from Annabel K. Short, Ph.D. and our PI, Tallie Z. Baram, MD, Ph.D., in Nature Reviews Neurology.  A critical assessment of human literature on early-life adversity and vulnerability to cognitive problems. 200 refs and new ideas...Read the review here


July 2019

Junior Researcher, Jessica L. Bolton, PhD, receives an NIMH K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Grant.  

Conte Center@UCI Junior Researcher, Jessica Bolton, PhD, receives an NIMH K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Grant. The project title is "Defining the role of Microglia in the Synaptic Rewiring of the Hypothalamus by Early Life Adversity".  This is a very prestigious and competitive award.  Congratulations, Jessica!


Conte Center@UCI awarded five-year, $15 million Silvio O. Conte Grant.

The National Institute of Mental Health has awarded Dr. Tallie Z. Baram of the University of California, Irvine a five-year, $15 million Silvio O. Conte Center grant. The funding will allow her interdisciplinary team to continue studying how unpredictable parental and environmental signals influence an infant's vulnerability later in life to cognitive and emotional problems, such as risky behaviors, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Read the full story


In Finland, too, unpredictable maternal signals to the infant impact cognitive development! 

A collaborative study between the Conte Center@UCI and the FinnBrain Institute in Turku, Finland shows remarkably similar effects of patterns of maternal signals on infant emotional regulation.

Davis EP, Korja R, Karlsson L, Glynn LM, Sandman CA, Vegetabile B, Kataja EL, Nolvi S, Sinerva E, Pelto J, Karlsson H, Stern HS, and Baram TZ.  Across continents and demographics, unpredictable maternal signals are associated with children's cognitive function. 2019. EBioMedicine (in press)

The paper, now in press in EBioMedicine, demonstrates the universal importance of Conte Center discoveries.  Elysia Davis, the lead author, notes: "Maternal unpredictability, that we term high entropy, is equally influential in kids in Finland and in California.  Everything else was different about these populations.  This is strong proof that patterns of maternal care/signals should be considered when assessing the early-life factors that modulate cognitive and emotional health, as well as vulnerability to mental illness.


Good News About a Breakthrough Conte Center Publication

November 2018

The manuscript describing the QUIC (Questionnaire of Unpredictability In Childhood), has been accepted to Neuropsychopharmacology, the flagship journal of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology. The paper enables researchers and practitioners working with infants, children, and adults to employ measures of unpredictability and fragmentation of early-life environment in clinical and study contexts. 

The Conte Center is happy to share the paper and the methodologies with interested investigators throughout the world. 

Kudos to Prof. Laura Glynn, the lead author of this important study.   


Jessica L. Bolton, PhD receives NARSAD Young Investigator Award

August 2018

Conte Center Postdoctoral fellow Jessica L. Bolton has been selected to receive the NARSAD Young Investigator Grant.  Sponsored by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, this grant is prestigious amongst post-doctorates and young assistant professors in mental health research. This award will provide Dr. Bolton up to $35,000 per year for two years with a total of $70,000 to continue her research proposal, “Developmental Programming of Microglia-specific Functional and Transcriptomic Changes by Early-Life Adversity.” 

New Center publication in Neuropsychopharmacology suggests that fragmentation and unpredictable parental signals may be relevant to smartphone use.

Cellphone/smartphone use is now constant and ubiquitous: Over 95% of millennials and 85% of Gen-X individuals own a smartphone...Read the full article

Conte Center Team Honored with ICTS Team Science Award

April 2018

The Institute for Clinical and Translational Science has named Conte Center @ UCI the recipient of its 2018 Robert Newcomb Interdisciplinary Team Science Award. The award was created to “highlight and honor individuals who have played a formative role in bringing together teams of researchers from diverse, trans-, multi-, and interdisciplinary backgrounds in studies and projects that have advanced biomedical and clinical research” according to the center’s website. The award was presented at The 10th Annual ICTS Awards Dinner “People Who Make A Difference in Human Health”.

Conte Center Director receives American Academy of Neurology’s highest award

April 2018

Dr. Tallie Z. Baram received the prestigious 2018 Cotzias Award during the American Academy of Neurology‘s 70th annual meeting, held in April 2018, in Los Angeles. Established in 1978, the Cotzias Lecture and Award are named for George C. Cotzias, MD, who together with colleagues developed L-Dopa treatment, the most commonly used intervention for Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Baram delivered the lecture, “How Early-Life Experiences Sculpt Your Brain,” at the meeting’s Presidential Plenary Session on Sunday, April 22. Her groundbreaking research examines how such experiences, specifically stress or seizures, influence the function of brain cells, essentially by re-programming them. This influences how they assemble into precise brain circuits, which affects development and also vulnerability or resilience to mental illness.

Read the full article at UC Irvine Health News.

New Conte Center Publication in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

August 2017

Memory function of children seem to be worse if maternal care patterns were unpredictable. In adolescent rats, receiving fragmented and unpredictable maternal care early in life directly worsened memory.

Using both observations of human children and direct manipulation of maternal care in rodents enabled Conte Center investigators led by Profs. Elysia Davis and Tallie Z. Baram to conclude that brain development is sensitive to patterns of maternal-derived signals. Specifically, unpredictable and fragmented patterns of maternal signals may not permit optimal development of brain machinery that underlies cognitive functions.

These findings are highly important in today’s world where maternal interactions with her child might be disrupted and fragmented by numerous distractions.

Read the article

Impaired ability to experience pleasure (anhedonia) can be reversed in adults!

September 2017

Impaired ability to experience pleasure (anhedonia) resulting from fragmented/unpredictable early-life experiences can be reversed in adults! A paper by postdoctoral researcher Jessica Bolton and the UCI Conte Center team in the prominent journal Biological Psychiatry shows

Megan Curran receives 2017 Graduate Student Award

July 2017

Conte Center MD/PhD graduate student Megan Curran received the 2017 Renée Harwick Advanced Graduate Student Award sponsored by the UCI Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. The Renée Harwick Advanced Graduate Student Award is funded by an endowed gift by Dr. Renée Harwick to recognize a graduate student who shows outstanding scientific promise and to support the completion of the student’s Ph.D. thesis.

2016 Neurobiology of Stress Workshop

July 2016

The 2016 Neurobiology of Stress Workshop, sponsored in part by the Conte Center @ UCI, was held in sunny Southern California, had close to 200 participants and was a great success. The next workshop is bound for Banff/Calgary, Canada in June 2018. To learn more about the 2018 Workshop, contact co-organizers Matthew Hill or Jaideep Bains. To be added to the workshop distribution list, please send an email to