Andrew Wooyoung Kim

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Northwestern U.

Grant number

Gr. 9823

Approve Date

April 30, 2019

Project Title

Kim, Andrew (Northwestern U.) "Biological mechanisms of generational trauma and resilience in Soweto, South Africa"

Growing evidence highlights the role of gestational exposures, such as maternal stress, as a factor that shapes a wide variety of postnatal phenotypes across development, such as disease risk. One mechanism believed to underlie the long-term impacts of maternal prenatal stress is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a system involved in coordinating the stress response. Alterations in the HPA axis due to heightened stress during offspring development is understood to increase the risk of mental illness across the lifecourse. However, it is not well-known how far the effects of prenatal stress extend into the offspring’s lifecourse and whether these long-term impacts are malleable. This proposed study will evaluate the lifecourse and intergenerational effects of early life stressors on adult HPA axis function and mental health as well as the malleability of these impacts through adult social support. Data come from a multigenerational, longitudinal birth cohort of black South African women living in Soweto, South Africa who were pregnant during the final, politically tumultuous months of the apartheid regime in 1990. Findings from this study will help elucidate intergenerational mechanisms of stress-based developmental plasticity, examine the nature of adult biological plasticity, and advance theory and methods in biocultural anthropology.