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Trauma and PTSD Across the Lifespan and the Development of Fear-Based Disorders


Presented by Kerry J. Ressler, MD, PHD

Chief Scientific Officer, James and Patricia Poitras Chair in Psychiatry Chief, Division of Depression & Anxiety Disorders, McLean Hospital; Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School


Location: Virtually on Zoom

Childhood maltreatment, occurring in up to 20-30% of the population, incorporates a range of active and passive factors, from abuse, to neglect, to the impacts of broader structural and systemic adversity. Despite the effects of childhood maltreatment and adversity on a wide range of adult physical and psychological negative outcomes, not all individuals respond similarly. Understanding the differential biological mechanisms contributing to risk vs. resilience in the face of developmental adversity is critical to improving preventions, treatments, and policy recommendations. I will provide a brief overview of childhood abuse, neglect, maltreatment, threat, and toxic stress, and the effects of these forms of adversity on the developing body, brain, and behavior. I will then discuss the neurobiology of threat and fear formation and PTSD, with evidence that developmental trauma increases the risk for adult trauma-related disorders, along with examples of genomic, epigenomic, and transcriptomic discoveries and biomarkers that may help to understand risk and resilience in the aftermath of trauma and potential targets for intervention and prevention. Both human and preclinical studies will be presented. Ongoing and future work aimed at understanding the biology of trauma across the lifespan from model systems to human biology may provide targets for intervention and prevention.

Target Audience

Physicians (psychiatrists, pediatricians, child neurologists), psychologists, social workers, other mental health clinicians and researchers, and students and trainees.   

  1. List at least 2 effects of adversity on the developing body, brain and behavior 
  2. Describe the neurobiology of threat and fear formation 

Continuing Education (CE/CEU) Information


The Harvard Medical School is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The institution designates this live activity for a maximum of 1.25 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. 


The Children's Hospital Boston Psychology Division is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. This institution maintains responsibility for this program and its content. 


The National Association of Social Workers has approved this series for continuing education credits for social workers.