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Workshops & seminars, Conferences & lectures

PERFORM Colloquium

Prenatal maternal stress and child development: Epigenetic and brain mechanisms from Project Ice Storm

Date & time

Wednesday, March 11, 2020
4 p.m. – 5 p.m.


Suzanne King


This event is free




Wendy Kunin
(514) 848-2424 ext. 5295


Loyola Jesuit Hall and Conference Centre
7141 Sherbrooke W. Room 110

Wheelchair accessible



The Developmental Origins of Health and Development (DOHaD) hypothesis suggests that the maternal environment during pregnancy can have long-lasting programming effects on the unborn child by altering the development of fetal organs and epigenetic profiles. There are, however, ethical and methodological challenges to studying stress during pregnancy. In this talk, Dr. King will describe her study of women who were pregnant during the 1998 Quebec ice storm, and the cognitive, behavioral, physical and motor development of their children.

Key messages:

  • “Stress” can be conceptualized as the exposure to Objective hardship, the cognitive appraisal of the event, and the Subjective distress experienced;
  • Sudden-onset disasters provide opportunities for natural experiments with quasi-random distribution of objective exposures;
  • The objective exposure of the pregnant women to the ice storm had cascade effects on their children’s development, often via effects on brain morphology or on patterns of DNA methylation;

Project Ice Storm has been funded by CIHR.

Speaker Bio:

Suzanne King, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychiatry at McGill University as well as a principle investigator at the McGill-affiliated Douglas Mental Health University Institute, both in Montreal. After graduate training in psychology and educational research in Virginia, she conducted post-doctoral research at the Douglas, studying the family dynamics of people with schizophrenia. Her results led to the study of risk factors for mental illness, and then of prenatal maternal stress in particular. She is currently running five studies of children exposed to natural disasters in utero in order to understand the nature and mechanisms of effects of prenatal stress.

Related links:

This website describes all 5 of Dr. King’s prenatal stress studies from natural disasters, including lists of publications.

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