Tom Boyce: Developmental Neurogenomics and Neuroscience of Early Childhood Stress and Adversity

Date: 
Tuesday, January 21, 2014 - 5:00pm to 7:00pm
Note: 
5pm reception, 5:30pm talk
Location: 

CERAS Learning Hall, Stanford

Tom Boyce is Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at UCSF. He received his M.D. from the Baylor College of Medicine, completed his internship and residency in pediatrics at UCSF, and was appointed a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He spent twenty years at the University of California as a Professor at San Francisco and Berkeley, and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Research for the Berkeley School of Public Health. He has also held faculty appointments at the Universities of Arizona and British Columbia. Boyce was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 2011, the Board on Children, Youth and Families of the National Academy of Science in 2012, and he currently heads the Division of Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics at UCSF. Boyce studies the interplay among neurobiological and psychosocial processes leading to socially partitioned differences in childhood health and disease. By examining the interactive influences of socioeconomic adversities and neurobiological responses, his work has demonstrated how psychological stress and neurobiological reactivity to aversive social contexts operate conjointly to produce disorders of both physical and mental health in children. A central goal of his work is the development of a new synthesis between biomedical and social epidemiologic accounts of human pathogenesis and an articulation of the public health implications of that synthetic view.

Readings: 

Social inequalities in childhood dental caries: The convergent roles of stress, bacteria and disadvantage

W. Thomas Boyce, Pamela K. Den Besten, Juliet Stamperdahl, Ling Zhan, Yebin Jiang, Nancy E. Adler, John D. Featherstone, 2010

The studies reported here examines stress-related psychobiological processes that might account for the high, disproportionate rates of dental caries, the most common chronic disease of childhood, among children growing up in low socioeconomic status (SES) families. In two 2004e2006 studies of kindergarten children from varying socioeconomic backgrounds in the San Francisco Bay Area of California (Ns ¼ 94 and 38), we performed detailed dental examinations to count decayed, missing or filled dental surfaces and microtomography to assess the thickness and density of microanatomic dental compartments in exfoliated, deciduous teeth (i.e., the shed, primary dentition). Cross-sectional, multivariate associations were examined between these measures and SES-related risk factors, including household education, financial stressors, basal and reactive salivary cortisol secretion, and the number of oral cariogenic bacteria. We hypothesized that family stressors and stress-related changes in oral biology might explain, fully or in part, the known socioeconomic disparities in dental health. We found that nearly half of the five-year-old children studied had dental caries. Low SES, higher basal salivary cortisol secretion, and larger numbers of cariogenic bacteria were each significantly and independently associated with caries, and higher salivary cortisol reactivity was associated with thinner, softer enamel surfaces in exfoliated teeth. The highest rates of dental pathology were found among children with the combination of elevated salivary cortisol expression and high counts of cariogenic bacteria. The socioeconomic partitioning of childhood dental caries may thus involve social and psychobiological pathways through which lower SES is associated with higher numbers of cariogenic bacteria and higher levels of stress-associated salivary cortisol. This convergence of psychosocial, infectious and stress-related biological processes appears to be implicated in the production of greater cariogenic bacterial growth and in the conferral of an increased physical vulnerability of the developing dentition.

How Experience Gets Under the Skin to Create Gradients in Developmental Health

Clyde Hertzman and Tom Boyce, 2009

Social environments and experiences get under the skin early in life in ways that affect the course of human development. Because most factors associated with early child development are a function of socioeconomic status, differences in early child development form a socioeconomic gradient.We are now learning how, when, and by what means early experiences influence key biological systems over the long term to produce gradients: a process known as biological embedding. Opportunities for biological embedding are tethered closely to sensitive periods in the development of neural circuitry. Epigenetic regulation is the best example of operating principles relevant to biological embedding. We are now in a position to ask how early childhood environments work together with genetic variation and epigenetic regulation to generate socially partitioned developmental trajectories with impact on health across the life course.