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Adversity early in life is common and is a major risk factor for the onset of psychopathology. Delineating the neurodevelopmental pathways by which early adversity affects mental health is critical for early risk identification and targeted treatment approaches. A rapidly growing cross-species literature has facilitated advances in identifying the mechanisms linking adversity with psychopathology, specific dimensions of adversity and timing-related factors that differentially relate to outcomes, and protective factors that buffer against the effects of adversity. Yet, vast complexity and heterogeneity in early environments and neurodevelopmental trajectories contribute to the challenges of understanding risk and resilience in the context of early adversity. In this overview, the author highlights progress in four major areas—mechanisms, heterogeneity, developmental timing, and protective factors; synthesizes key challenges; and provides recommendations for future research that can facilitate progress in the field. Translation across species and ongoing refinement of conceptual models have strong potential to inform prevention and intervention strategies that can reduce the immense burden of psychopathology associated with early adversity.

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