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The search for potential biomarkers
The search for potential biomarkers is another critical area of research. We need to strengthen our knowledge base to understand at a deeper level the neuroscience of attachment, group formation, stress response, resilience, and inter-group conflict.
Given the promise of early parent-child programs to build more peaceful and socially cohesive homes and communities, researchers have been actively examining the basic biological building blocks of attachment, social engagement, and group formation and their interface with our stress response circuits.
Another domain concerns the development of the human neocortex, the study of which will help scientists understand and potentially counteract some of our innate responses [fight, flight, stereotyping the out-group, etc.]. Is it possible that parent-child training programs of proven value could alter the circuity of the brain to become less inclined to violence and to be more inclusive and compassionate? Clearly, the search for valid biomarkers remains an emerging area of science.
A list of potential biomarkers for parents and offspring that may be of value to monitor attachment, dyadic interactions, toxic stress as well as provide linkages to an individual’s mental and physical health include:
Measures of the child’s and the parents’ physical well-being: Heart rate, blood pressure, body mass index (weight and height); Sleep-wake cycle (sleep time, etc.)
Measures of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis: Cortisol (salivary, serum, urine, hair, CSF), ACTH
Measures of oxytocin and vasopressin and their role in positive social behaviors and defensive behaviors including aggression
Measures of the autonomic nervous system: Physiological measures of cardiovascular reflexes, including heart rate variability
Measures of neurotransmitters and their metabolites: Dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin (plasma, CSF)
Measures cytokines and other markers of neuroinflammation (plasma, CSF)
Brain imaging tasks
Composition of an individual’s microbiome
Measures collected during naturalistic social interactions: Coding of parent-child dyadic interactions; mother-child synchrony of heart rate variability; mother-child brain-to-brain EEG synchrony.
C. Panter-Brick, R. Dajani, K. Hadfield, S. Van Uum, & M. Greff. (2017). Hair cortisol concentrations in war-affected adolescents: A prospective intervention trial. International Society of Psychoneuroendocrinology.