Life Course Centre Seminar Series

Exploring the impact of social experience on child development and autism

Presented by Professor Lane Strathearn, The University of Iowa

This event was recorded. Watch it here:

Infancy is a time of rapid neural development, in which repetitive, attuned social experiences are transformed into neural connections that become the foundation for social and cognitive development. Likewise, pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and caregiving experience appear to prime a mother’s brain to respond to infant by engaging specific neuroendocrine systems, including the dopamine reward and the oxytocin affiliation systems. Our research has explored the impact of early experience—both positive and negative—on child development. Likewise, we have shown, using functional MRI (fMRI), that maternal psychopathology including addiction, unresolved trauma, and insecure attachment impacts neuroendocrine responses to infant face cues, and subsequent child development. Our current research is testing whether early social experience interacts with genetic vulnerability, via epigenetic mechanisms, to affect the development of social communication in autism.

About the speaker

Dr Lane Strathearn, a medical and PhD graduate of The University of Queensland School of Medicine, is currently the Physician Director of the Center for Disabilities and Development at the University of Iowa. 

As a tenured professor of paediatrics with an endowed chair in Pediatric Neurodevelopment, Dr Strathearn also serves as the Division Director for Developmental and Behavioral Paediatrics. His clinical practice as a developmental pediatrician is focused on the diagnosis and treatment of children with autism spectrum disorder. His training in Brisbane included a fellowship in child protection and neurodevelopment, followed by a fellowship in developmental paediatrics at Texas Children’s Hospital/Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. Both in Australia and the US, he has been involved in longitudinal and clinical science research on the effects of early social experience and attachment on child development. His PhD studies incorporated the Mater-University of Queensland Study of Pregnancy (MUSP) and a study mother-child attachment using functional MRI. He has been the principal investigator of a multi-site randomized controlled trial of intranasal oxytocin, examining the effects of oxytocin on brain reward systems. He is currently the director of a US National Institutes of Health Center grant called the Iowa Hawkeye Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center, and he was recently awarded a 5-year grant entitled “Epigenetics and Social Experience in Autism: Discovering Modifiable Pathways for Intervention”. Learn more

Date & Time

Tue, 28 May, 2024

12:00 pm – 1:00 pm (AEST)






Life Course Centre