FHS Seminar Series - Exposure to Early Life Stress and Glucocorticoids: Focus on Epigenetic Mechanisms

by Dr. Nadine Provençal, Assistant Professor, FHS, SFU

November 15, 2018

Event Type

Seminar Series


November 15, 2018 at 12:00 pm to 1:15 pm


Blusson Hall, Room 9920


Exposure to early life stress (ELS) is a well-known major risk factor for developing psychiatric and behavioural disorders later in life. Evidence indicates that exposure to ELS can lead to long-term changes in several biological systems but our understanding of the mechanisms involved is limited. One proposed mechanism is that excessive glucocorticoids (GCs) release after ELS exposure induces long-lasting epigenetic alterations in important regulatory genes. Dr. Provencal will present recent evidences from her research using hippocampal progenitor cells as a model to study the impact of stress on our genes as well as cohort of newborns exposed to stress, which support this hypothesis. Overall her work suggests that early GCs exposure primes future gene responses via epigenetic marks. Her findings using an in vitro model may translate to human pregnancy where epigenetic marks could potentially serve as a biomarker for prenatal stress exposure and contribute to the increased risk for developing a psychopathology observed with prenatal GC exposure.



Dr. Nadine Provençal completed her Ph.D. in epigenetics of early life adversity and aggression at McGill University in collaboration with the Research Unit on Children’s Psychosocial Maladjustment in 2013. She received a research fellowship from the Canadian Institute of Health Research to complete a postdoctoral training at the Max-Planck Institute of Psychiatry (MPIP) in Germany. At the MPIP, she pursued her research on the epigenetic mechanisms involved in the response to stress in the context of psychiatric disorders. In 2014, she was awarded the Richard Todd Award from the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics for her research contribution to the genetics of child psychiatry. Dr. Provencal joined the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University as Assistant Professor in March 2017 and heads the EpiGenOmics of Developmental Trajectories (EGODT) laboratory. She is also an Investigator at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute.

Dr. Provençal’s research group aims to understand the molecular mechanisms of how early life environmental exposures influence the development of an individual leading to disease versus health. The laboratory uses a translational approach to study the epigenetic mechanisms involved in the long-lasting effects of early life adversities and their impact on the developmental trajectories of behavioral and stress-related disorders. Research in the lab combines multi-omic data analysis from cellular and animal models, where we can study in depth the molecular mechanisms at play, as well as multiple longitudinal and cross-sectional cohorts to translate these findings to patients exposed to early life adversities. The exchange between different fields of study is essential to shed light on different aspects of the development of complex diseases and give rise to new approaches and methods to tackle the mechanisms involved. To this end, research in the lab integrates knowledge and expertise from multiple fields including epigenetics, genetics, bioinformatics, statistics and clinical research.


  • This Seminar Series is open to the SFU and the Broader Research Community.  
  • This seminar may be webcast and recorded.
  •  A light lunch will be available at this seminar.  
  • The FHS Research Seminar Series is an Accredited Small Group Learning by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons.