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Transforming the understanding
and treatment of mental illnesses.

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Developmental Mechanisms and Trajectories of Psychopathology Branch


The Developmental Mechanisms and Trajectories of Psychopathology Branch supports research on the developmental mechanisms contributing to mental disorders and on developmental trajectories of risk and resilience. Research supported in this branch identifies mechanisms responsible for mental disorders by looking across levels of analysis to specify genetic, neural, behavioral, and environmental components that interact to define etiology of childhood-onset mental disorders. In addition, research supported in this branch identifies trajectories of mental disorders by looking across time (e.g., across developmental stages) at sequential and integrative relationships among genetic, neural, behavioral, and experiential/environmental factors leading to psychopathology or to recovery. Emphasis is on developmental progressions and the identification of early signs, risk factors, predictors, and biological mediators/moderators of continuity or change. During development, risk factors may contribute to a range of psychopathologies, and early indicators of later risk are often dimensional. Thus, the branch supports research that crosses traditional diagnostic categories, consistent with the NIMH RDoC initiative. This branch strongly encourages cross-disciplinary research collaborations. Studies involving human and non-human animals are supported, focusing on development from the prenatal period through adolescence. 

Areas of emphasis

  • Characterizing developmental processes and mechanisms across biological and behavioral domains of analysis that give rise to mental illness
  • Identifying sensitive periods for typical and atypical trajectories to understand the roots of mental illnesses
  • Identifying early, modifiable, biological, and environmental risk and protective factors and their underlying mechanisms, to serve as novel intervention targets
  • Delineating mechanisms of sex/gender differences in the development of mental illness

Branch Chief

Julia Zehr, Ph.D.
6001 Executive Boulevard, MSC 9617