Childhood and adolescence represent a critical period of brain development that is sensitive to drug exposure, in which early drug exposure may cause permanent changes in the brain that may only present later in adulthood.

Despite the worldwide increase over the last decade in treating paediatric patients with antipsychotic drugs (APD) for a variety of psychiatric disorders, there is a paucity of research around long-term consequences leading into adulthood. With reports children as young as 2 years of age are being treated for a range of disorders — from childhood onset schizophrenia to bipolar disorder and autism — and that due to difficulties in diagnosing mental disorders at a young age some children not affected by these disorders may be exposed inadvertently to APDs, my proposed ECF research program is timely and addresses an issue of utmost importance to human health.

We will use an established juvenile rat model to systematically investigate the long-term effects of antipsychotic treatment in developing male and female adolescent rat brains. We hypothesise that antipsychotic treatment in the developing brain will cause long-lasting alterations in adult behaviours and cerebral function, and furthermore that early exposure to APDs in developing brains will alter the response to antipsychotic treatment in adulthood.

The research outcomes will have clinical significance, allowing psychiatrists and paediatricians to assess the risk/benefit ratio prior to prescribing APDs to paediatric patients.

Funding body

National Health and Medical Research Council

Scheme name

Peter Doherty Biomedical Early Career Fellowship

Years funded

2017 – 2021

Lead institution

University of Wollongong