The experience-dependent maturation of prefronto-limbic circuits and the origin of developmental psychopathology: implications for the pathogenesis and therapy of behavioural disorders


Dr Katharina Braun, Department of Zoology & Developmental Neurobiology, Otto-von-Guericke-University, Leipziger Strasse 44, 39120 Magdeburg, Germany. E-mail:


The maturation of prefronto-limbic neuronal pathways that mediate essential affective and social regulatory functions is experience dependent. Immediately after birth the infant’s affective experiences, especially those embedded in the relationship with the primary caregiver, trigger the reorganization and adaptive fine-tuning of synaptic circuits. Research in humans and in animal models supports the hypothesis that socio-emotional deprivation and emotional trauma during early childhood may leave ‘scars’ in prefronto-limbic function, brain regions that are essential for emotional behaviour, learning, and memory. The focus of this review is to point out that mechanisms involved in structuring and optimizing neural circuits during brain development might also be used in moulding personality and behaviour during psychotherapy in the adult brain.