Dr. Cate Peña, an Assistant Professor in PNI, was recently awarded a five-year, $3.7M Biobehavioral Research Award for Innovative New Scientists (BRAINS) R01 from NIMH. The award is to support exceptional early-career investigators conducting high-risk, high-reward mental health research. The award will support Dr. Peña’s research to understand how early life adversity primes sensitivity to stress later in life through epigenetic mechanisms. The first part of the research will test the hypothesis that early life adversity alters maturation of the epigenome in key brain reward circuitry, in a cell-type-specific manner, as a biological mechanism of heightened reactivity to future stimuli. The second part of the research will develop novel CRISPR-based epigenome editing tools to test the functional relevance of epigenetic priming at specific genomic loci. Understanding how early life adversity alters the course of brain development at the level of the epigenome has the potential to transform our understanding of the neurodevelopmental origins of early life adversity-attributable mental illness and potential critical windows for intervention.