• Oberlander, Tim


    Senior Clinician Scientist, CFRI
    R. Howard Webster Professorship in Brain Imaging and Early Child Development, Division of Developmental Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, University of British Columbia
    Developmental Pediatrician, BC Children's Hospital and BC Women's Hospital & Health Centre
    Attending Physician, Complex Pain Service, BC Children's Hospital and BC Women's Hospital & Health Centre

    Degrees / Designations
    Primary Area of Research
    The M.I.N.D.
    Secondary Area(s) of Research
    Lab Phone
    Assistant Phone
    Mailing Address
    BC Children's Hospital

    F605, 4480 Oak Street
    Vancouver, BC V6H 3V4

    Affiliate Websites
    Research Areas
    • Developmental origins of self regulation in childhood 
    • Developmental effects of prenatal exposure to antidepressant medications and maternal mood
    • Measures of cardiac autonomic and neuroendocrine stress reactivity 
    • Chronic pain in children with developmental disabilities 

    I am a developmental pediatrician studying how early social experience (prenatal maternal mental illness and psychotropic medication exposure) influences the developmental origins of stress and self-regulation and its impact on thinking, learning and behaviour during childhood.

    Current Projects

    My research extends from studies of child behaviour at the individual to population levels that seeks to understand how in utero exposure to maternal mood and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants sets pathways for both developmental risk and resiliency during early childhood. My work provides strong evidence that both influences have an impact on stress regulation and mood in childhood, possibly reflecting early changes in central serotonin (5HT) levels.

    Increasingly my work is showing that the developing brain has a remarkable capacity for change, such that even in the face of adversity, some children do very well. The goal of my work is to figure out how and why this happens, and use these findings to identify opportunities for interventions that reduce risk. Emerging findings are beginning to point to ways that could possibly assist clinicians and families in understanding critical issues that influence a child’s emotional well-being and academic success later in school. As Project Lead for CFRI’s 3T MR Imaging facility I have the opportunity to advance studies of early brain development using advance imaging technology.

    I have three main areas of research:

    1. Developmental effects of prenatal psychotropic medication exposure – fetal, neonatal, infant and childhood outcomes: This research focuses on studies of the developmental impact of prenatal exposure to psychotropic medications (i.e. selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor [SSRI] antidepressants) and depressed maternal mood that extends from fetal periods to early adolescence. Biobehavioural, pharmacologic and genetic factors that moderate fetal exposure are studied. Outcomes of particular interest are pain/stress reactivity (neuroendocrine, heart variability), cognitive function (executive functions), attention threat bias, and measures of arousal and emotional regulation. This work also includes examination of the role of key genetic (i.e. SLC6A4) variations and epigenetic (i.e. methylation) factors that may also contribute to altered early serotonin levels.
    2. Pharmacoepidemiology and Child Development: Since 2004 we have used population level health data linking antenatal maternal prescription records with birth/neonatal health records to distinguish the impact of maternal mood from in utero SSRI exposure. We have reported novel findings indicting that the effects of gestational maternal SSRI use differ from those of maternal mental illness and that neonatal outcomes vary with the timing and duration of prenatal SSRI exposure. Recently, we have started examining developmental and behavioural outcomes (learning, mood and autism spectrum disorder risk, ASD) related to in utero SSRI exposure, socioeconomic conditions and maternal mental health. 
    3. Pain and children with developmental disabilities: This research seeks to understand pain in children with developmental disabilities. The current focus of this work is to improve pain assessment management among this population of children.
    Research Methodology
    • Fetal, neonatal and child behavioural state regulation
    • Non invasive stress measures (cardiac autonomic (RSA, PEP), salivary alpha-amylase & cortisol)
    • Integration of genetic and epigenetic factors to study interactions reflecting the impact of early experience
    • Population-based linked child health data
    Selected Publications
    Hanley GE, Brain U, Oberlander TF. Prenatal exposure to serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants and childhood behaviors. Pediatric Research. 2015 (Accepted/In Press) PMID:25897539

    Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental psychology, 51(1), 52-66. PMID:25546595

    Hanley GE, Oberlander TF. The effect of perinatal exposures on the infant: Antidepressants and depression. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 2014; 28(1):37–48 PMID:24100223

    Weikum WM*, Mayes LC, Grunau RE, Brain U, Misri S, Oberlander TF. The Impact of Prenatal Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SRI) Antidepressant Exposure and Maternal Mood on Mother-Infant Interactions at 3 months of age. Infant Behavior and Development. 2013; 36(4):485-493. PMID:23728194

    Weikum WM*, Brain U, Chau CMY, Grunau RE, Boyce TW, Diamond A, Oberlander TF. Prenatal serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SRI) antidepressant exposure and serotonin transporter promoter genotype (SLC6A4) influence executive functions at 6 years of age. Frontiers in Cell. Neurosci. 2013; 7:180:1-12. PMID:241305156

    Hanley GE, Oberlander TF. Neurodevelopmental Outcomes Following Prenatal Exposure to Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor Antidepressants: A “Social Teratogen” or Moderator of Developmental Risk? Birth Defects Research Part A: Clinical and Molecular Teratology. 2012; 94(8):651-659. PMID:22733632

    Weikum WM, Oberlander TF, Hensch TK, Werker JF. Prenatal exposure to antidepressants and depressed maternal mood alter trajectory of infant speech perception. Proc Natl Acad Sci. USA. 2012 Oct 16;109 Suppl 2:17221-7. PMID: 23045665

    Pawluski JL, Brain U, Underhill CM, Hammond JL, Oberlander TF. Prenatal SSRI exposure alters neonatal corticosteroid binding globulin, infant cortisol levels and emerging HPA function. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2012 Jul;37(7):1019-28. PMID: 22177580

    Rurak D, Lim K, Sander A, Brain U, Riggs W, Oberlander T. et al. Third trimester middle cerebral artery Doppler blood flow predicts neonatal behavioral state regulation on day 6 infants with prenatal SSRI antidepressant exposure. Pediatric Research 2011; 70(1):96-101. PMID: 21436759

    Oberlander TF, Warburton W, Misri S, Aghajanian J, Hertzman C.: Effects of timing and duration of gestational exposure to serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants: population-based study. Br J Psychiatry. 2008 May;192(5):338-43. PMID: 18450656

    Oberlander T.F. , Weinberg J., Papsdorf M., Grunau R, Misri S., Devlin A.M. Prenatal exposure to maternal depression, neonatal methylation of human glucocorticoid receptor gene (NR3C1) and infant cortisol stress responses. Epigenetics 2008 3:2, 1-9. PMID: 18536531

    Oberlander TF, Warburton W, Misri S, Aghajanian J, Hertzman C. Neonatal Outcomes After Prenatal Exposure to Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor Antidepressants and Maternal Depression Using Population-Based Linked Health Data. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2006; 63(8):898-906. PMID:16894066

    CIHR Operating Grant - Project: "Attention bias and executive functions in 9-14 year olds following prenatal antidepressant exposure" (2014-2019)

    CIHR Operating Grant - Project: "Developmental origins of autism: A population level linked data study of prenatal antidepressant medication exposure" (2014-2017)

    CIHR Operating Grant - Project: "Early child behavior: Relations to early brain development and maternal mood" (2012-2017)

    Honours & Awards

    R. Howard Webster Professor in Early Childhood Development (2004-present)

    Human Early Learning Partnership, Senior Scholar Award (2002-2005)

    Early Career UBC Scholar, The Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, UBC (2003-2004)

    Canadian Pediatric Society, Aventis Pasteur Research Award (2003)

    Research Group Members

    My work includes a number of key partnerships at CFRI, HELP, BCCH and UBC, including Pediatrics, Psychology, Neonatology, Reproductive Mental Health, Child Psychiatry, Fetal-maternal Medicine, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Cellular & Physiological Sciences.