Date of Degree
Biological Psychology | Child Psychology | Developmental Psychology | Maternal and Child Health
prenatal stress, placenta, maternal trauma, oxytocin, psychophysiology, mother-child coregulation
The placenta is responsible for regulating the fetal growth and environment in preparation for the anticipated external life. To succeed, it continuously adapts and weaves in a variety of neuroendocrine signals from the maternal organism. If a mother was exposed to trauma and her physiology sustained a change in the functioning of the immune, autonomic and/or endocrine systems, the placenta may anticipate different external environments for her children as compared to children of mothers without trauma exposure. This dissertation examined possible underlying mechanisms of psychosocial trauma transmission from one generation to the next via the placental oxytocinergic pathway. Encompassing three studies, it draws upon mother-child dyad data from an ongoing longitudinal investigation, in which psychosocial trauma was categorized into four groups as indexed by exposure to trauma before pregnancy, and exposure to Superstorm Sandy during pregnancy. This dissertation centers on the placental expression of oxytocin’s single receptor (OXTR), which was quantified in the placenta tissue. The first study found that trauma exposure during pregnancy jointly with trauma exposure before pregnancy synergistically increased the odds of OXTR expression in the placenta. The second study found that OXTR expression in the placenta moderated the expression of two stress-related placental genes (CREB1 and NCOR2). The third study demonstrated that higher OXTR in the placenta was predictive of greater maternal psychophysiological responsivity (respiratory sinus arrhythmia; RSA) to her child, i.e., greater coregulation. The studies highlighted OXTR expression in the placenta as an important marker of past maternal trauma exposure and of mother-child coregulation in early childhood. These findings provoke the consideration that the maternal-placental-fetal pathway may play a significant role in optimizing mother-child coregulation, which has been shown to be a springboard for effective self-regulation in children, as well as create conditions to enhance the self-regulation development of children whose external life is anticipated to be harsh.
Pehme, Patricia M., "Oxytocin, a Lover and a Fighter: Maternal Trauma Exposure and Mother-Child Coregulation" (2022). CUNY Academic Works.
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