About the initiative

Our social and physical environments have direct and interconnected influences on our mental health outcomes. Children, in particular, are very sensitive to exposures in their environment. Accordingly, exposure to early-life adversity (ELA) is the single most important predictor of lifetime negative mental health outcomes, and exposure to adversity in other periods of life, such as exposure to natural disasters and wars, also increases likelihood of psychopathology.

The McGill-Douglas – Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry International Collaborative Initiative in Adversity and Mental Health aims to further our mechanistic understanding of how adversity, including ELA, is biologically embedded to increase the risk of psychiatric disorders. Such insight will lead to important progress in deciphering the biological underpinnings of psychiatric disorders, which can be translated into desperately needed novel diagnostic, treatment, and prevention strategies.

Formalized in 2021 based on the strong, existing collaborations between the research institutions, the Collaborative Initiative is led by Gustavo Turecki at the Douglas Research Centre and McGill University, and Elisabeth Binder at Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry (MPIP). Each having contributed significantly to the understanding of how environmental stimuli act on brain and body function and subsequently influence mental health, the Turecki and Binder research teams bring complementary expertise and strengths in basic and translational research, with particular emphasis on the impacts of stress in early life. The initiative includes a number of other laboratories both at the Douglas Research Centre and at the MPIP, building on the complementarity of their research to create a unique program mapping the biological embedding of adversity to mental health.

The initiative aims to establish a world-leading program that will focus on the following three main research themes:



Perinatal and developmental animal models of early-life stress


Cellular models of adversity, including early-life stress


Translational research using human samples and data