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Applications of psychoneuroimmunology models of toxic stress in prevention and intervention efforts across early development

Although evidence supporting psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) models of toxic stress have emerged over the past decade, the PNI field has struggled to integrate these important findings into real-world practical applications. There is great potential for these models to reduce the societal burden of childhood adversity by facilitating early detection and prevention with those children and adolescents at greatest risk for stress-related physical and psychological disorders. But further research is needed to validate and scale developmentally appropriate interventions with specific immune and endocrine mechanism-based targets that are developmentally sensitive. The allostatic load and additive PNI models of toxic stress exposure in youth are summarized. These models highlight the importance of integrating a standardized screening of environmental and interpersonal risk factors with stable and scalable cognitive and biological markers of risk. PNI models of toxic stress illustrate the need for intervention delivery as early as possible to prevent negative health outcomes in youth and comprehensive screening efforts would facilitate the deployment of community and family level interventions. This review discusses practical applications of toxic stress models that are currently under investigation, clarifies key obstacles, such as research gaps and scalability, and provides potential solutions, including cross-disciplinary partnerships.

Keywords: Adversity; Allostatic load; Cytokines; Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis; Immune system; Neurodegeneration; Neuroendocrine; Psychoneuroimmunology; Stress.


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