Coe+and+Lubach+2008 - Current Directions in Psychological...

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Science Current Directions in Psychological The online version of this article can be found at: DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2008.00544.x 2008 17: 36 Current Directions in Psychological Science Christopher L. Coe and Gabriele R. Lubach Fetal Programming : Prenatal Origins of Health and Illness Published by: On behalf of: Association for Psychological Science can be found at: Current Directions in Psychological Science Additional services and information for Email Alerts: Subscriptions: Reprints: Permissions: at UNIV CALIFORNIA IRVINE on September 24, 2010 cdp.sagepub.com Downloaded from
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Fetal Programming Prenatal Origins of Health and Illness Christopher L. Coe and Gabriele R. Lubach University of Wisconsin ABSTRACT— Research on young animals and humans has demonstrated the critical importance of the fetal stage as a formative period in normal development. However, the significance of these findings has not always been incor- porated into our thinking when trying to elucidate the or- igins of health and disease. It is not only that babies react to the state of the mother and to salient environmental events while still in the uterus. This stimulation and priming seems to be essential for guiding the optimal maturation of the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. Experiences during prenatal life also program the regulatory set points that will govern physiology in adulthood. During this malleable maturational phase, these biological processes should be viewed as flexible ‘‘learning systems’’ that guide the developmental trajectory toward health or derail it toward pathology. Our studies on infant primates have shown that the competence of their immune responses and the structure and activity of certain brain regions, as well as many aspects of behavior and emotional reactivity, are strongly affected by the pregnancy conditions of their mothers. KEYWORDS— fetus; pregnancy; stress; health; immunity For much of the last century, the concept of tabula rasa was an influential, albeit controversial, idea in developmental and psychological theory. The notion that an individual starts out as a clean slate at birth is usually credited to the 17th-century philosopher John Locke. Its emphasis on the importance of postnatal experience is certainly sound, as are the ethical im- plications: that everyone should be assured of the same oppor- tunities in life. However, an objective look at the evidence does not support the conclusion that development begins at birth and that all infants are identical at delivery, emerging from the womb as a blank canvas awaiting the paintbrush. Any parent can attest to the fact that newborn babies vary greatly in size, alertness, and even temperament. Perhaps more significantly, the develop- mental trajectory toward health or certain illnesses had already been set in motion while the baby was in the womb. This pro-
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