Welcome to the Developmental Psychiatry Research Group!

The Developmental Psychiatry Research Lab focuses on the relationships between fetal brain development, early infant and child behavioral and psychophysiological measures, and risk for later mental illnesses such schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. While contributing to mental illness prevention strategies is our ultimate goal, we also strive to contribute to early intervention strategies. Our lab is located in the Fitzsimmons Building (formerly Building 500) on the Anschutz Medical Campus.

Our current research focuses on the dietary supplement called phosphatidylcholine (PC) and its potential to improve early brain development in children whose mothers were given the supplement during pregnancy. PC is a form of choline, also called Vitamin B4 or Vitamin J. Choline is a naturally occurring substance that has been identified as an essential nutrient by The Institute of Medicine. It is good for normal growth everywhere in the body, including the brain. Foods such as milk, liver and eggs are good food sources of choline.

Although most people get enough choline in the foods they eat, the need for choline is greater in pregnant women as their babies are rapidly developing new cells. During pregnancy, women increase production of choline within their body, and when combined with the choline they get from their diet, most pregnant women have enough choline for their babies to grow normally. However, some babies may benefit from having their mothers consume additional PC to fill any gaps. Our research is looking to see if PC supplementation is helpful in the long-term development of children.

In order to answer the bigger questions regarding the benefits to child development of additional PC during prenatal development, our research is asking the following questions along the way:

· What is the impact of genetics, nutrition, and environment on fetal brain development?

· What parts of the brain are associated with an increased risk for mental illnesses?

· How does a mother’s stress level during and after pregnancy impact fetal brain development?

· How does maternal infection during pregnancy affect fetal brain development?

· How is development different between the group of mothers taking the PC supplement and the group of mothers who do not?

· How do we measure brain changes as a child ages?

· Can we use the answers to these questions to devise new and better treatments for different mental illnesses (e.g. schizophrenia)?

· Can we find ways to decrease the number of people who get these major mental illnesses?

To answer these questions, we need the help of pregnant women and their families; being able to collect information during pregnancy through early childhood is key. We need families that span the spectrum: those with no family history of major psychiatric illnesses, those with a family history or individual diagnosis of major psychiatric illnesses, and those in between.

 

  1. Hunter SK, Hoffman MC, D'Alessandro A, Noonan K, Wyrwa A, Freedman R, Law AJ. Male fetus susceptibility to maternal inflammation: C-reactive protein and brain development. Psychol Med. 2019 Dec 02; 1-10. PMID: 31787129.
    View in: PubMed
  2. Hoffman MC, Hunter SK, D'Alessandro A, Noonan K, Wyrwa A, Freedman R. Interaction of maternal choline levels and prenatal Marijuana's effects on the offspring. Psychol Med. 2019 Jul 31; 1-11. PMID: 31364525.
    View in: PubMed Article has an altmetric score of 39
  3. Freedman R, Hunter SK, Law AJ, Wagner BD, D'Alessandro A, Christians U, Noonan K, Wyrwa A, Hoffman MC. Higher Gestational Choline Levels in Maternal Infection Are Protective for Infant Brain Development. J Pediatr. 2019 05; 208:198-206.e2. PMID: 30879727.
    View in: PubMed Article has an altmetric score of 101
  4. Freedman R, Hunter SK, Hoffman MC. Prenatal Primary Prevention of Mental Illness by Micronutrient Supplements in Pregnancy. Am J Psychiatry. 2018 07 01; 175(7):607-619. PMID: 29558816.
            View in: PubMed Article has an altmetric score of 167