Current Research Projects


Our research has been funded by grants from NARSAD, Scottish Rite, The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, NIH, NIMH, NIMHD, NIEHS and the EPA.  We are grateful to the participants who have given their time and energy to our studies and projects.

Baby Microbiome Study

In collaboration with Professors Elizabeth Corwin and Anne Dunlop, as well as Co-Investigators in the Emory Schools of Nursing, Medicine, and Public Health, Professor Brennan is undertaking a study to examine the impact of prenatal stress and environmental exposures on infant development across the first 18 months of life.  This study is focused on African American families who may encounter increased prenatal risks, as well as health disparities

as a consequence of those risks.  A novel aspect of this study is the assessment of the infant gut microbiome (the bacteria that live on and within us) as a potential mechanism through which these risks are transmitted. 

There are several ongoing research projects that stem from this study and explore different aspects of maternal and

child health. For example, we are currently conducting research on Maternal and Child Sleep Quality. Our research

questions span from the perinatal period to the first years of children's lives. We have explored associations between mothers' own postnatal sleep quality and their postnatal mental health, as well as the effects that mothers' experiences of prenatal psychological distress may have on their toddlers' own sleep quality. Future research will seek to understand the links between mothers' and children's sleep quality and how this may influence maternal parenting behaviors.

We are grateful to the mothers and infants who give their time, energy (and samples!) to help support this research endeavor!

Click here to check out a relevant research paper from this study.

Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Study

 

Also in collaboration with Anne Dunlop and Elizabeth Corwin in the School of Nursing, we are currently completing a study of African American mothers and their 2 to 5 year old children.  This project is part of the NIH funded ECHO consortium, which combines over 80 existing cohorts focused on children’s health outcomes. Our study specifically focuses on the relationship between early childhood environmental exposures, the gut-microbiome, neurological development, and risk for obesity. During annual visits, the child is assessed using measures of cognitive and behavioral functioning, and mothers provide information about family factors and relevant environmental risks. 

Prenatal Medication Use and Childhood Outcomes

 

In collaboration with Alicia Smith, Ph.D., as well as the Emory Women's Mental Health Program (WMHP), we collected data on the preschool cognitive and biobehavioral outcomes associated with exposure to psychotropic medication during pregnancy.  This study developed from successful collaborative efforts in which we examined stress reactivity in six-month old infants exposed to maternal mental illness during the perinatal period of development.  Recent data analyses and writing projects have focused on perinatal risks, epigenetic factors, parenting and stressful life events as they impact preschool age cognition and behavior.

We have also conducted follow-up projects using data from a subsample of this cohort to examine 1) the effects of prenatal medication exposure and children's social behavior and processing of social interactions, 2) the hormone oxytocin as a potential correlate of social and behavioral outcomes, and 3) the impact of psychotropic medications in pregnancy on long-term child developmental outcomes. Currently, we are conducting a follow-up Tooth Fairy Study, Out of the Mouths of Babes. in which biomarkers in the children's baby teeth are measured to determine the levels of stress, inflammation, and psychotropic medication babies were exposed to in utero.

 

Most of the mothers in this study have participated since pregnancy and we are grateful for their dedication and continued participation to this research endeavor. The follow-ups are focused on a wide range of child symptoms and behaviors and are designed to assess both risk and resilience in these children, with the long term goal of informing prevention programs and clinical decision making in the treatment of depressed women in pregnancy.

Click here to check out a relevant research paper from this project.

Outcomes Associated with Maternal Depression: an Australian Cohort Study 

In collaboration with Connie Hammen at UCLA and the MUSP investigative team in Brisbane Australia, Professor Brennan has completed a longitudinal study of over 800 offspring of women with and without a history of depression.  Data are available from pregnancy, through early childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. Current research projects using this data set are primarily focused on examining the intergenerational transmission of psychopathology, child and young adult outcomes, and gene x environment (GxE) interactions.

Click here and here to check out relevant research papers from this study.

Studying Teen Adjustment and Resilience (STAR)

Children exposed to maternal depression and prenatal psychotropic medications are at increased risk for various social and emotional difficulties. However, little research has prospectively followed such mother-child dyads into adolescence to examine the long-term risk of maternal depression and prenatal psychotropic medication exposure on various health, behavioral, social, and emotional outcomes. In this follow-up study, we will continue to longitudinally examine patterns of risk and resilience in a cohort of mothers and children who we have been following since children were preschool-age. This study consists of both mothers and adolescents completing diagnostic clinical interviews, as well as a series of questionnaires to assess stressful experiences, family environment, sleep, pubertal development, and cognitive, emotional, and social difficulties and strengths. With this study, we aim to (1) examine the effects of maternal depression, alone or in combination with prenatal psychotropic medication exposure, on adolescent functioning, and (2) identify modifiable mechanisms that may contribute to psychopathology in high-risk youth. Ultimately, identifying such modifiable mechanisms may lead to targeted interventions to prevent psychopathology from developing in high-risk adolescents.