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prof. dr. B.R.H.M. (Bea) Van Den Bergh

Full Professor 

TS Social and Behavioral Sciences
Dean Office


Research over the past twenty years has shown that alterations in behaviour and health that lead to mental or physical diseases are also associated with adverse environmental influences operating before birth and by small size at birth.This has led to the hypothesis that these behavioural alterations and diseases originate through adaptations which the embryo, foetus and newborn make when exposed to adverse environmental influences and which permanently change structure, physiology and metabolism. Because there are critical periods in development, when certain developmental changes must occur, changes in the developmental environment can result in irreversible changes. These can enhance vulnerability and have deleterious consequences for the risk of later mental and physical disease. Disability may thus be the long-term price of adaptations to the developmental environment. This is the concept of 'developmental origins of behaviour, health and disease' (DOBHaD), sometimes referred to as 'developmental programming'. This concept is strongly supported by experimental findings in animals, and is amenable to research which will have major public health consequences. Developmental programming is all about the interaction between genes and the environment, particularly in the pre- and perinatal period. Research in this area assists the training of basic and clinical scientists. Integrative, cross-disciplinary research is now needed. Our DOBHaD research program focuses on psychological and (neuro)physiological processes and their interplay. The main goals of our DOBHaD-research program are: 1. To identify the offspring that is at high risk for poor mental and physical health outcomes, as soon as possible before or after birth. 2. To better understand the neurobehavioural mechanisms that can explain their enhanced vulnerability and, behavioural and health problems, disorder or disease. 

In 2008-2012 I was project leader of a European Science Foundation project on Prenatal Early Life Stress (PELS). The focus of attention was the neurocognitive development, social and emotional behaviour and self-regulation of offspring prenatally exposed to maternal anxiety, stress and depression. Mothers and infants were studied with different methods (such as neurophysiological (e.g., EEG) and physiological measures (e.g., cortisol, heart rate variability and other biomarkers), behavioural observations and questionnaire data.(see ). In 2012-2017 I am principal investigator for  TiU and KU Leuven (Belgium) in BRAINAGE, an international study in the EU 7th Framework Program, with Prof. Matthias Schwab (Jena) as program coordinator (see The consortium consists of leading European and US-American neuroscientists, physiologists, obstetricians, developmental psychologists and innovative biotech companies. The project will examine to what extent prenatal stress, (i.e. maternal stress, glucocorticoid treatment or malnutrition studied in humans, rodent and non-human primate models), mediate premature brain ageing and susceptibility to age-associated brain disorders scuah as cognitive decline and stroke.


Principal publications

  • Van den Bergh, B.R.H., & Calster, B. van (2009). Diurnal cortisol profiles and evening cortisol in post-pubertal adolescents scoring high on the Children?s Depression Inventory. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 34(5), 791-794
  • Mennes, M., Van den Bergh, B.R.H., Lagae, L., & Stiers, P. (2009). Developmental brain alterations in 17 year old boys are related to antenatal maternal anxiety. Clinical Neurophysiology, 120(6), 1116-1122
  • Van den Bergh, B.R.H., Calster, B. van, Smits, T., Huffel, S. van, & Lagae, L. (2008). Antenatal maternal anxiety is related to HPA-axis dysregulation and self-reported depressive symptoms in adolescence: A prospective study on the fetal origins of depressed moods. Neuropsychopharmacology, 33(3), 536-545
  • Van den Bergh, B.R.H., Mulder, E.J.H., Mennes, M., & Glover, V. (2005). Antenatal maternal anxiety and stress and the neurobehavioural development of the fetus and child: Links and possible mechanisms: A review. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 29(2), 237-258
  • Van den Bergh, B.R.H., Mennes, M., Oosterlaan, J., Stevens, V., Stiers, P., Marcoen, A., & Lagae, L. (2005). High antenatal maternal anxiety is related to impulsivity during performance on cognitive tasks in 14- and 15-year-olds. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 29(2), 259-269

Click here for a list of publications in PDF format PDF

Click here for the list of publications in the Research Portal

Last amended: 03 September 2013