Can early life stress contribute to how COVID-19 affects a patient? That’s a question being asked by a McLean Hospital researcher in a national mental health study of college students in his native Pakistan that will be conducted over the next two years.
The project is one of two undertaken by Alaptagin Khan, MBBS, FRSPH, a research associate in the Developmental Biopsychiatry Research Program. A second study aims to examine a potential link between COVID-19 and a gene involved in the entire continuum of stress-related and anxiety disorders.
“Epidemiological, family, and molecular genetic studies have provided strong evidence for the role of genetic factors, as well as stressful or traumatic life events, especially in childhood, in developing psychiatric disorders, such as major depression and PTSD,” said Khan. “And these genetic and environmental factors interact with each other in a complex manner that is not yet clearly understood.”
Since joining McLean in 2012, Khan has focused his research on identifying sensitive developmental periods when exposure to childhood adversity has the greatest impact on the risk for developing major depression, suicidal ideation, PTSD, personality disorders, and substance use disorders.
This presence of sensitive exposure periods may lead to a more precise clinical and neurobiological understanding of susceptibility and resilience and can help define times when interventions can have the most potent effects.