Hanna E Stevens MD PhD

Assistant Professor (Adjunct) in the Child Study Center; Associate Director, Albert J. Solnit Integrated Training Program

Research Interests

Early Brain Development; Inhibitory Neurons; Prenatal Stress; Childhood Behavioral Problems; Behavioral Models of Psychiatric Disorders; Etiologies of Psychiatry Illness; Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; Anxiety; Schizophrenia; Depression; Autism

Current Projects

Prenatal stress and forebrain development

Growth factors and prenatal stress

Role of fibroblast growth factor receptor 2 in forebrain functioning

Research Summary

Prenatal stress has been associated with multiple mental health problems in children and adults. Prenatal stress has been linked to childhood cognitive, physiological, and emotional problems and has been correlated with psychiatric disorders including ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and a greater severity of symptoms in Tourette syndrome. Prenatal stress clearly has neurophysiological effects, but it is not clear what components of development are most vulnerable. The relationship of prenatal stress with behavioral disorders may be particularly mediated by changes to inhibitory (GABAergic) neurons. Animal models have demonstrated that changes occur in offspring that are exposed to prenatal stress in regions of the brain in which GABAergic systems are important regulators. In the developing brain, GABAergic system disruptions may result in changes to other neural systems that may underlie other emotional and cognitive functioning—GABA plays a significant role in circuitry formation during critical periods. The mechanisms by which these changes in the brain occur are not understood. My lab is examining developmental changes in the brain as a result of prenatal stress in order to better understand the pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders and to develop better prevention and treatments.

Selected Publications

  • Stevens HE, Jiang GY, Schwartz ML, Vaccarino FM. (2012) Learning and memory depend on fibroblast growth factor receptor 2 functioning in hippocampus. Biological Psychiatry. 71(12):1090-8. Epub 2012 Apr 27.
  • Stevens HE, Su T, Yanagawa Y, Vaccarino FM. (2012) Prenatal stress delays inhibitory neuron progenitor migration in the developing neocortex. Psychoneuroendocrinology. Aug 18. Epub ahead of print
  • Stevens HE, Smith KM, Maragnoli ME, Fagel D, Borok E, Shanabrough M, Horvath TL, Vaccarino FM. (2010) Fgfr2 is required for the development of the medial prefrontal cortex and its connections with limbic circuits. Journal of Neuroscience. 30(16):5590 –5602.
  • Vaccarino, FM, Stevens HE, Kocabas A, Szekely A, Grigorenko EL, Weissman S. Induced pluripotent stem cells: a new tool of developmental neuroscience to address neuropsychiatric disorders. Neuropharmacology. 2011 Mar 1; [Epub ahead of print]
  • Stevens HE, Smith KM, Rash B, Vaccarino FM (2010) Neural stem cells and the developmental origins of neuropsychiatric disorders. Frontiers in Neuroscience. doi:10.3389/fnins.2010.00059.
  • Stevens HE, Coplan JD, Leckman JF and Suomi SJ. Risk, Resilience and Recovery: Early Manipulation of Macaque Social Experience Result in Persistent Behavioral and Neurophysiological Outcomes, Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 2009,. 48 (2): 114-127.

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