Integrative Neuroscience Research Group
Hasse Karlsson_PIC.jpg
Hasse Karlsson Professor, MA, MD, PhD
Department of Clinical Science, University of Turku and Turku PET Centre

The currently running FinnBrain Birth Cohort builds on previous neuroscience research by prof. Hasse Karlsson and his group.


Our main hypothesis is that prenatal maternal stress (comprising depression, anxiety, and stressful life events leads to altered infant stress and inflammation regulation systems, which in turn leads to vulnerability to deficits in brain structure and function (e.g. cognitive functioning, stress regulation and emotion processing). We expect that the mechanisms are as follows: 1. maternal stress during pregnancy leads to elevated maternal cortisol levels and 2. altered immunological processes as indicated by changes in cytokine profile. These maternal prenatal physiological changes are reflected in 3. child cytokine production and 4. stress reactivity, i.e. cortisol secretion patterns in response to stress, in infancy and early childhood, and 4. in child gut microbiome, which are subsequently related to child neurodevelopment regulation via the immune and endocrine systems. 5. Child exposure to aberrant cortisol levels, inflammation and altered gut microbiota leads to changes in brain structure and especially myelination and development of white matter tracts (magnetic resonance imaging, MRI). 6. Emotion processing patterns biased towards negative affectivity processing or other deviance in emotion processing area expected to be observed (EEG-ERP, near-infrared spectroscopy, NIRS and eye movement tracking in response to emotion stimuli). 7. Parental reflective functioning modifies the effects of prenatal stress on child neurodevelopment.

Objectives: The overall aim is to identify biomarkers for prognosis and diagnosis of stress in pregnant women, young parents and babies. To find these biomarkers we will screen for inflammatory, hormonal and neuroanatomical and – functional aberrations and patterns which could be useful for pattern recognition. Further, we will use the emerging data on biomarkers to identify potential foci for treatment and prevention of stress related illnesses. To reach these objectives we analyze associations and causal chains to build up hypothesis on for further research by us and other groups. We actively search for the possibility to establish hypotheses for well-targeted intervention studies - both psychological and biological or pharmacological.

In all, most of the methods used in this project have previously been used in adults and infants/children when appropriate, but usually not with this approach of assessing the effects of prenatal stress and also not in combination with other similar measurements investigating various, inter-related biological systems simultaneously in a longitudinal set-up.

The study population is drawn from the ongoing birth cohort comprising consecutive pregnant women attending the first trimester ultra sound at gestational week (gwk) 12 and their spouses who are recruited based on a personal contact by a research nurse. Parent(s) participating the study give the written informed consent also on behalf of the child until the child is old enough to give the consent him/herself.  The research questionnaires are mailed to the participants or they can be filled in at the web. For the whole cohort, subject recruitment continues until the beginning of the year 2015 in two sites in Finland (Turku region comprising three ultrasound units in South-Western Finland with 4500 births/year and the predominantly Swedish-speaking area of Åland Islands with 350 births /year). We have currently recruited more than 4000 families.

Research group, approx. 80 researchers: please visit

Total number of publications 2010-2015: 46

Number of publications with IF > 5: 10

PhD students: 25

Funding: Suomen Akatemia

Signe och Ane Gyllenbergs Stiftelse

Jalmari ja Rauha Ahokkaan Säätiö

Varsinais-Suomen sairaanhoitopiiri

Turun Yliopistosäätiö

EU:n PANS – projekti

Emil Aaltosen säätiö

Oy H. Lundbeck Ab

Suomen Tiedeseura

Suomen Kulttuurirahaston Varsinais-Suomen rahasto

Suomen Lääketieteen Säätiö

Turku Postgraduate School of Health Sciences

Psykiatrian Tutkimussäätiö


Ålands lagting

International Psychoanalytical Association

Turku Science Park

Suomalainen Lääkäriseura Duodecim

Lastentautien tutkimussäätiö

Brain and Behavior Research Foundation

  1. Karlsson H, Hirvonen J, Hietala J, Salminen JK (2011)  No association between serotonin 5-HT 1A receptors and spirituality among patients with major depressive disorders or healthy volunteers. Mol Psychiatry. 2011 Mar;16(3):282-5 (IF 15.049)

  2. Karlsson H, Näätänen P, Stenman H (2008). Cortical activation in alexithymia as a response to emotional stimuli: PET study. Br J Psychiatry 192: 32-38 (IF 5.777)

  3. Estlander A-M, Knaster P, Karlsson H, Kaprio J, Kalso E (2008). Pain intensity modifies the relationship of anger management style to depression. Pain 140: 387-392. (IF 5.249)
  4. Hirvonen J, Karlsson H,Kajander J, Lepola A, Markkula J, Rasi-Hakala H, Någren K, Aalto S, Salminen JK, Hietala J (2007). Decreased brain serotonin 5-HT1A receptor availability in medication-naive patientswith major depressive disorder – an in vivo imaging study using PET and [carbonyl-11C]WAY-100635. Int J Neuropsychopharm; Oct 31: 1-12. (IF 4.874)
  5. Karlsson H, Hirvonen J, Kajander J, Lepola A, Markkula J, Rasi-Hakala H, Någren K, Aalto S, Salminen JK, Hietala J (2010). Psychotherapy induces proliferation of 5-HT-1A receptors in human brain. Psychol Med 40:523-8 (IF 5.015)

20014 Turun yliopisto, Finland
Tel. +358 29 450 5000

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