Early Life Experiences - Professor Rick Richardson

What is this research about?

In this project we explore a range of issues pertaining to early life experiences. For example, in most species the young forget much more rapidly than do adults, a phenomenon referred to as infantile amnesia. Is this forgetting due to difficulties in storing the memory, or is it due to difficulties in retrieving it? Further, how does early life adversity affect memory development, and are the effects of such adversity passed on to subsequent generations?

We also examine potential treatments designed to ameliorate the effects of early-life adversity on the developing animal as well as on subsequent generations. In other work, we examine how early life experiences can alter subsequent social interactions between the mother and her offspring.

In addition to expanding our understanding – at the behavioural and neural levels – of how early experiences impact on later cognitive and social development, much of the work we do in this area is aimed at improving our understanding the development of anxiety disorders.

Other researchers involved:

Kelsey Zimmermann, PhD (Emory) - A post-doctoral research associate investigating CRH-projecting neurons after early life stress.

Caitlin Cowan - A student in the Combined PhD/Clinical MA program examining the effects of probiotics on fear retention in a rodent model of early-life stress.

Diana Chan - A student in the Combined PhD/Clinical MA program examining the effects of prenatal exposure to fluoxetine on the development of fear memory.

Janice Kan - A student in the Combined PhD/Clinical MA program examining how stress leaves a lasting mark on the mother and affects her behaviour and that of her offspring.

Sarah Altmann - A student in the Combined PhD/Clinical MA program examining the effects of prenatal stress on social development.

Nathalie Elliott - A student in the Combined PhD/Clinical MA program examining developmental differences in fear generalisation after early life stress.

Sarah Bae - A student in the Combined PhD/Clinical MA program examining behavioural tagging, the behavioural analogue of synaptic tagging and capturing (STC).

Publications relating to this research:

Callaghan, B.L.*, Cowan, C.S.M.*, & Richardson, R. (2016). Treating generational stress: Effect of paternal stress on offspring memory and extinction development is rescued by probiotic treatment. Psychological Science, 27, 1171-1180. (*= equal first authors).

Cowan, C.S.M., Callaghan, B.L., & Richardson, R. (2016). The Effects of a Probiotic Formulation (Lactobacillus rhamnosus and L. helveticus) on Developmental Trajectories of Emotional Learning in Stressed Infant Rats. Translational Psychiatry, e823.

Kan, J.M., Callaghan, B.L., & Richardson, R. (2016). A mother's past can predict her offspring's future: Previous maternal separation leads to the early emergence of adult-like fear behavior in subsequent male infant rat offspring. Behavioral Neuroscience, 130, 511-520.

Cowan, C., Callaghan, B.L., Kan, J., & Richardson, R. (2016). The lasting impact of early-life adversity on individuals and their descendants: Potential mechanisms and hope for intervention. Genes, Brain, and Behavior, 15, 155-168.

Richardson, R., Cowan, C. S.M., Callaghan, B.L., & Kan, J.M. (2016). Effects of Early-Life Stress on Fear Memory in the Developing Rat. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 7, 15-20.

Chan, D., Baker, K.D., & Richardson, R. (2015). Relearning a context-shock association after forgetting is an NMDAr-independent process. Physiology & Behavior, 148, 29-35.

Bridget L. Callaghan & Rick Richardson (2015). The development of fear and its inhibition: Knowledge gained from preclinical models (pp. 83-94). In “Primer on Anxiety Disorders”, D. Pine, K. Ressler, B. Rothbaum, & A. Muskin (Eds). Oxford University Press.

Li, S., Callaghan, B.L., & Richardson, R. (2014). Infantile amnesia: Forgotten but not gone. Learning & Memory, 21, 135-139.

Callaghan, B.L., Li, S., & Richardson, R. (2014). The elusive engram: What can infantile amnesia tell us about memory? Trends in Neurosciences, 37, 47-53.

Callaghan, B.L. & Richardson, R. (2014). Early Emergence of Adult-Like Fear Renewal in the Developing Rat After Chronic Corticosterone Treatment of the Dam or the Pups. Behavioral Neuroscience, 128, 594-602.

Callaghan, B.L., Graham, B.M, Li, S., & Richardson, R. (2013). From resilience to vulnerability: Mechanistic insights into the effects of stress on transitions in critical period plasticity. Frontiers in Molecular Psychiatry, 4, article number 90.

Cowan, C.S.M., Callaghan, B.L., & Richardson, R. (2013). Acute Early-Life Stress Results in Premature Emergence of Adult-Like Fear Retention and Extinction Relapse in Infant Rats. Behavioral Neuroscience, 127, 703-711.

Callaghan, B.L. & Richardson, R. (2013). Early experiences and the development of emotional learning systems in rats. Biology of Mood and Anxiety Disorders, 3, 8.


Richardson Lab