Gene-environment interactions and intermediate phenotypes: Early trauma and depression

Orla P. Hornung, Christine M. Heim

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


This review focuses on current research developments in the study of gene by early life stress (ELS) interactions and depression. ELS refers to aversive experiences during childhood and adolescence such as sexual, physical or emotional abuse, emotional or physical neglect as well as parental loss. Previous research has focused on investigating and characterizing the specific role of ELS within the pathogenesis of depression and linking these findings to neurobiological changes of the brain, especially the stress response system. The latest findings highlight the role of genetic factors that increase vulnerability or, likewise, promote resilience to depression after childhood trauma. Considering intermediate phenotypes has further increased our understanding of the complex relationship between early trauma and depression. Recent findings with regard to epigenetic changes resulting from adverse environmental events during childhood promote current endeavors to identify specific target areas for prevention and treatment schemes regarding the long-term impact of ELS. Taken together, the latest research findings have underscored the essential role of genotypes and epigenetic processes within the development of depression after childhood trauma, thereby building the basis for future research and clinical interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberArticle 14
JournalFrontiers in Endocrinology
Issue numberFEB
StatePublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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