Work Packages

FinnBrain Research consists of many work packages that cover for example structural and functional brain measurements, neuropsychological functioning, parent-child interaction, molecular genetics, gut microbiota, HPA axis functioning, and pediatric outcomes.

Child Development and Parental Functioning Lab

The aim of this project is to create a more complete understanding about the role of environment and biological processes in child self-regulation development and subsequently, about the earliest origins of psychopathology in childhood. More specifically, the aim is to study the early development of emotional and cognitive self-regulation including attention, temperamental traits and executive functioning especially in the context of early life stress exposure. The different factors of the self-regulation capacity will be studied in relation to later child socio-emotional and cognitive development and psychopathology. The project collaborates closely with the FinnBrain Neuroimaging lab, and in addition to brain imaging data, the behavioral data is combined with several biological and genetic indicators derived from e.g. gut microbiota, blood, hair and saliva samples collected in other labs.

We also investigate the development of child stress regulation at home and in out-of-home childcare. We are interested in child individual characteristics and environmental factors that are associated with child well-being.

In addition, we study the possible moderating role of parenting in the development of child self-regulation. More specifically, the effects of parents’ psychological well-being, cognition, attention, and executive functions and maternal caregiving behavior on the different patterns of children’s self-regulation are studied.

This study provides new knowledge about the mechanisms between child regulation capacity and brain development, which will help to develop evidence-based and targeted treatment and preventative interventions for small children and their families.

Child development and parenting are studied in a longitudinal design from pregnancy until school age (Figure 1.)

The study includes several PhD and Post-Doc studies.

Senior researchers:
Riikka Korja, Professor, Developmental Psychologist, (team leader)
Linnea Karlsson, Associate Professor, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
Marjukka Pajulo, Adjunct Professor

Post doc researchers:
Saara Nolvi, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, Adjunct Professor
Eeva-Leena Kataja, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, Psychotherapist, University Lecturer
Katja Tervahartiala, PhD
Heidi Jussila, MD
Elisabeth Nordenswan, PhD, Clinical Psychologist

Doctoral researchers:
Eeva Eskola, MSc, Clinical Neuropsychologist
Hetti Lahtela, MSc, Clinical Developmental Psychologist
Eeva Holmberg, MSc, Clinical Psychologist
Carlos Sirkiä, MSc, Clinical Psychologist
Anniina Karonen, MSc, Clinical Psychologist
Pauliina Juntunen, MSc, Clinical Psychologist
Venla Huovinen, MSc, Clinical Psychologist
Aino Luotola, MSc, Clinical Psychologist

Research assistant:
Vilma Lindroos

COVID-19 pandemic

The aim of the COVID-19 substudy is to investigate the psychological well-being and symptoms of the parents, children and families participating in the FinnBrain Study during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, we explore the longitudinal stress hormone levels from hair samples and whether the stress hormone concentrations are associated with short and long-term psychological distress. We also investigate the change in vaccine attitudes during the pandemic (see also the description on the vaccine attitudes substudy).

The uniqueness of the substudy lies in the broad background data gathered from the FinnBrain Study families – parents and children. The data collected during pandemic can be linked with this data to better understand longitudinal influences of the pandemic on the families as well as the ways to support families during this exceptional period.

Principal investigators
Saara Nolvi, PhD, Adjunct Professor
Hasse Karlsson, MD, PhD, Professor

Senior researchers
Max Karukivi, MD, PhD, Associate Professor
Linnea Karlsson, MD, PhD, Associate Professor
Riikka Korja, PhD, Professor
Marjukka Pajulo, MD, PhD, Adjunct Professor
Jallu Lindblom, PhD, Post-Doctoral Researcher
Anna Soveri, PhD, Academy Researcher
Jetro Tuulari, MD, PhD, Collegium Researcher
Linda Karlsson, PhD, Post-Doctoral Researcher
Susanna Kortesluoma, MSc, PhD

Doctoral researchers
Ru Li, MD
Paula Mustonen, MD

Dental Fear, Oral Health-Related Behaviours and Quality of Life

We are interested on the interplay of family-, child-, environment and oral health-related factors in the development of dental fear among children. Especially we are interested whether the development of dental fear is more strongly related to psychosocial factors within the family or with the use of oral health care services and oral health-related quality of life.

We also study how the behavior, attitudes and knowledge of children and adolescents and changes in these are related to the behavior, attitudes and knowledge and psychosocial factors of their parents and oral health-related quality of life of both children and their parents.

Study group:
Satu Lahti, Professor
Mimmi Tolvanen, Adjunct Professor
Vesa Pohjola, Adjunct Professor
Kari Rantavuori, Senior Researcher
Anni Luoto, Researcher,
Katri Palo, Researcher
Anu Kallio, Researcher
Outi Hagqvist, PhD
Hanna Suokko, Doctoral Researcher
Tuulia Salminen-Mäki, Doctoral Researcher

Professor Gerald Humphris, University of St. Andrews, UK

Gut-Brain Axis Lab

FinnBrain Birth Cohort Study focuses on the role of prenatal and early life environment and stress exposures on child development. Previous literature suggests that gut microbiota (GM) harbors a bidirectional communication with central nervous system, metabolic pathways and immune and stress regulatory systems. Recently, the role of GM in shaping human brain development has gained increasing interest. In the FinnBrain Gut-Brain Axis Lab we use repeated fecal samples and precise phenotyping to assess if and how prenatal and early life exposures are reflected to infant GM. Further, we the alterations in GM are associated with brain developmental (e.g. neuropsychological profiles, behavioral phenotypes) trajectories and later health outcomes.

Early nutrition and breastfeeding has important effect on infant gut microbiota. We have repeated breast milk sampling from 2-3 mo, 6 mo, 12-14 mo, 18 mo and 24 mo postpartum. We aim to study how maternal health is associated with breast milk composition, and further, how breast milk composition relates to child gut microbiota composition and child health and development.

We have successfully collected and analyzed fecal samples with 16S RNA sequencing (Illumina MiSeq) at several time points between 2.5 months and 5 years of child age, each time point consisting of around 150-500 infants. Additional to next-generation sequencing, we are performing metabolomic analyses of the fecal samples. We have access to other biological samples (including saliva cortisol, hair cortisol concentration, breast milk, urine as well as blood samples), extensive neuropsychological phenotyping (see Child Development and Parental Functioning Lab) and neuroimaging data (see Neuroimaging Lab) from the subjects.

This enables us in FinnBrain Gut-Brain Axis Lab to investigate how prenatal and early life stress and other exposures are reflected to the GM composition and functioning, and how these are associated with mother and child stress regulation and neuropsychological outcomes as well as development of chronic conditions.

Study group:

Gut microbiota:
Linnea Karlsson, Associate Professor, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
Hasse Karlsson, Professor
Eveliina Munukka, PhD
Leo Lahti, Adjunct Professor
Anna Aatsinki, PhD
Ville Laitinen, Doctoral Researcher
Heidi Isokääntä, Bioanalyst, Doctoral Researcher
Venla Huovinen, Doctoral Researcher
Jenni Korteniemi, Doctoral Researcher

Breast milk:
Alex Dickens, PhD, Adjunct Professor

HPA Axis Functioning and Development Lab

Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) is one of the main stress regulation systems. The aim of the HPA axis Functioning and Development Lab is to study longitudinally several aspects of HPA axis functioning and its development from pregnancy to early childhood in different environmental contexts in order to gain better understanding of the role of stress regulation in child development and health especially during the first years of life. Our three main projects focus on:

1) The association between the prenatal maternal psychological distress exposure and the infant acute cortisol stress response at child ages of 2.5, 6 and 14 months.

2) The role of different childcare contexts and child individual characteristics on the child diurnal cortisol profiles at the age of 2, 3.5 and 5 years.

3) Associations of parental and child hair cortisol concentrations with a range of health and developmental outcomes during pregnancy and 1, 2.5 and 5 years postnatally.

Dysfunction of the HPA axis is linked with many diseases and it regulates and interacts with all main homeostatic and life supporting systems including metabolic, cardiovascular, immune, reproductive, and central nervous systems. The relevance of HPA axis functioning to the well-being and morbidity is studied widely but still less is known about the longitudinal development of the HPA-axis functioning during the early childhood in different contexts from pregnancy onwards. Better understanding of the functioning and the development of the child stress regulation system and its relevance to other homeostatic systems in the body and neuropsychological development is needed to find biomarkers and develop prevention to stress related illnesses.

Senior Researcher:
Linnea Karlsson, Associate Professor, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist (team leader)

Post doc Researchers:
Susanna Kortesluoma, MSc (acute stress response)
Katja Tervahartiala, PhD (diurnal stress regulation in childcare)

Doctoral Researchers:
Paula Mustonen, MD (hair cortisol concentrations)
Inka Mattila, MD, MSocSc (hair cortisol concentrations)

Molecular Genetic Lab

The aim of the molecular genetic study is to clarify the role of genetic mechanisms in early development and prospectively in health. As genetic mechanisms, we will study epigenome, gene expression, and genetic variants (correlations, interactions and direct genetic effects).

The major research tracks are as follows:
1) We will examine the direct genetic effects on development and prospective health by analysis of the child’s genomic variations by GWAS and hypothesis-based analyses. (Study on direct genetic effects)

2) We will study the effect of interaction of genotype variations in the newborn with environment on development of the child. The environment include psychological and somatic factors related to the parents (sleep, life habits, attachment, psychological health incl. mood, anxiety, reactivity stress and later; obesity, smoking and use of alcohol, drugs and medication during pregnancy), as well as other factors such as delivery, complications in pregnancy, family environment, and infections. (Study on genetic interactions)

3) We will examine the effect of environment on epigenetic programming, gene expression and telomere length and contributing genetic factors. (Study on epigenome)

4) We will study the effect of parental genotypes on the growth environment, development of the child and prospective health. In addition, the direct genetic effects and genetic interactions among the parents will be examined. (Study on genetic correlations)

Study group:
Tiina Paunio, Professor
Riikka Lund, Adjunct Professor, Senior Researcher
Emma Vitikainen, PhD
Katri Kantojärvi, Postdoctoral Researcher
Antti-Jussi Ämmälä, PhD
Johanna Salo, Doctoral Researcher
Marja-Riitta Rautiainen, Doctoral Researcher,
Sonja Sulkava, Doctoral Researcher,
Alexandra Lahtinen, Doctoral Researcher,
Laura Korhonen, MD

Neuroimaging Lab

We study how early life exposures, genes and environment shape the brain structure and function. We are interested in how these, often subtle individual differences explain later characteristics, skills and health of the children.

Key facts on the data

• Infant MRI: ca. 180 newborns (2-5-week-olds) with structural MRI and additional 26 infants with fMRI, including resting state and social touch task fMRI.
• Infant EEG: paradigms measuring cerebral reactions to emotionally-valenced sounds have been acquired from approximately 180 newborns (1-3 days olds).
• Infant NIRS: We measured the functional brain responses to emotional sound and social touch in ca. 40 2-month-olds with near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS).
• 2-year-old NIRS: We measured the functional brain responses to social touch in ca. 20 participants.
• 3-year-old EEG: we have repeated the infant paradigm and measured ca. 80 3-year-olds.
• We are currently collecting MR imaging data in 5-year-old children (target ca. 200 measurements). The imaging data will be coupled with performance in detailed neuropsychological assessments performed prior to imaging visits.

Coordinating senior investigators

Hasse Karlsson, MA, MD, PhD, Professor of Integrative Neuroscience
Principal Investigator of the FinnBrain Birth Cohort Study

Jetro J. Tuulari, MD, PhD, Adjunct professor of Cognitive Neuroscience
Principal Investigator of the FinnBrain Neuroimaging Lab

MRI studies senior investigators

Jetro J. Tuulari, M.D., Ph.D., Adjunct professor of Cognitive Neuroscience
Junior research group leader of Child MRI studies (5-year-olds)
“My main responsibilities include the coordination of current MR data collection, preparing the analytical techniques and pipelines for MR analysis and student supervision. My research interests are brain development across human lifespan, obesity & metabolic health and the brain as well as hedonic processing in the brain. Outside of the academia I enjoy playing football and family time. I am currently based at the Department of Psychiatry in the University of Oxford. During the post-doctoral fellowship I am learning new advanced connectome modeling techniques. The ties to FinnBrain remain strong.”

Riitta Parkkola, M.D., Ph.D. Professor
“I am a collaborator of the FinnBrain Research Group. I am Chief Neuroradiologist of Turku University Hospital and Professor of Radiology of Turku University. My main responsibility is to participate in collecting brain MRI data and interpreting the clinical MR images. My research interests are brain DTI data and its use in research. I have worked long time in research of preterm and term infants and my main interest is the impact of prematurity to the development of the child. My second research interest is human carbometabolic research using MR imaging and spectroscopy. Outside of the academia I enjoy working at my summer cottage and cooking in my kitchen.”

Noora Scheinin, M.D., Ph.D., Adjunct Professor
“I am a senior researcher in the FinnBrain Neuroimaging Lab as well as in some other projects, and Docent / Adjunct professor in Biological Psychiatry at the University of Turku. Currently I am mostly tied up in clinical work as a physician at the Psychiatric Neuromodulation Unit of Turku University Hospital. My main responsibilities in the FinnBrain Neuroimaging Lab have included –along the years- study design, acquisition of funding, coordination of MR data collection, and thesis supervision. My research interests lie in brain development and plasticity as well as the neural mechanisms of disturbances in cognitive and/or emotional functioning. Outside of the academia I like to tend my house and garden and spend time with my family (of four to six, depending on if the dogs count).“ ORCID ID 0000-0002-0930-9018

Harri Merisaari, Ph.D.
“I am senior researcher in NeuroImaging team, currently residing in
the Case Western Reserve University in Ohio as post-doctoral research fellow. My responsibilities include building of brain image post-processing pipelines, MR signal modelling, and quality control. My research interests are in modelling of diffusion weighted MR signal, short term repeatability, and its effects to the overall reliability of MR measurements with various models. During occasional breaks from research life I often travel to enjoy seeing my friends and spending time outdoors.” ORCID ID: 0000-0002-8515-5399

Henriette Acosta, Ph.D.
“I am a postdoctoral fellow in the FinnBrain Neuroimaging Lab. I am involved in the data analyses of the infants’ and toddlers’ EEG data and MRI brain structural and functional data. I am fascinated by investigating the early human brain and behavioral development and its modulation by gene-by-environment interactions, as well as by exploring the etiology of schizophrenia.”

Jani Saunavaara, Ph.D.
“I am a medical physicist working at Turku University Hospital. I am actively participating in several MRI related research projects. My main responsibility in FinnBrain project is to participate in planning and creating MRI protocols.”

NIRS and EEG senior investigators

Minna Huotilainen, Ph.D., Professor
“I work as professor of education in University of Helsinki, where I apply neuroscientific methods to understand learning and development from infancy to old age. In FinnBrain, I work with infant and child EEG and ERP recordings. My research interests are learning and brain development across human lifespan, wellbeing and the use of neuroscience to develop education. Outside of the academia I enjoy playing in a band, singing in a choir and enjoying life with my family and two cats.”

Ilkka Nissilä, Ph.D.
“I lead the FinnBrain functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) sub-project and am a Research Fellow at Aalto University. My main responsibilities include practical neuroimaging measurements, data analysis, and acting as a thesis advisor. My research interests are mainly the development of a multimodal approach to functional neuroimaging using diffuse optical tomography combined with other imaging modalities and their application in the study of children’s brain development. Outside of the academia I photograph people and nature.”

Ambika Maria, M.D., Ph.D.
“I completed my MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) from India and MD/PhD degree in the Department of Psychiatry in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Turku, Finland. Currently, I am on a research exchange visit in Augusta University, Georgia, USA. My doctoral research has been conducted as a part of the FinnBrain Birth Cohort Study and my thesis is entitled “Emotional speech and affective touch processing in children less than two years of age”. My research interests include neuroimaging, near-infrared spectroscopy and diffuse optical tomography, cognitive and clinical neuroscience. Besides my academic interests, I like to teach dance, travel and spend time with my family and friends.”

Doctoral Researchers 0-3-year-old imaging data

Niloofar Hashempour, MSc, Doctoral Researcher
“I am a PhD candidate at the FinnBrain Neuroimaging Lab, University of Turku, Finland. My background is in biotechnology, biomedical imaging, image processing and data analysis. My current research is about studying the impact of prenatal stress on the developing brain using MRI and DTI imaging. I also participate in supervising students and teaching brain structural segmentation. My research interests are early brain development, medical imaging, diffusion tensor imaging and magnetic resonance imaging.” ORCID ID:

Satu Lehtola, M.D., Ph.D.
“I am preparing my PhD thesis on maternal prenatal stress and its effect on infant amygdalar and hippocampal volumes. I took part in the MRI data collection of the 2-5-week-old infants, which ended in 2016. My responsibilites include the analysis of the infant MRI data regarding amygdala and hippocampus as well as reporting the results of the analysis. My research interests are prenatal stress and its effect on brain development as well as sexual dimorphism in the brain. In other aspects of my life, I like doing all kinds of sports, read and spend time with my family and friends.”

Tuomas Lavonius, M.D., Doctoral Researcher
“I am a doctor and a PhD student in FinnBrain. I am preparing my PhD thesis on how maternal health during pregnancy affects the white matter development of a child. I divide my time between working as a general practitioner and advancing my PhD thesis. My main research interest are diffusion tensor imaging and early brain development. On my freetime I am an avid cyclist.”

Olli Rajasilta, M.D., Doctoral Researcher (infant fMRI data)

Silja Luotonen, M.B., Doctoral Researcher
“I am preparing my PhD thesis on the neural processing of emotional sounds in 3-year-olds (EEG study). I also took part in data collection.”

The MRI team for 5-year-old data collection

Susanne Sinisalo
“I am the FinnBrain Neuroimaging Lab MR study nurse. My main responsibilities include the practical coordination of current MR data collection and preparing the children and their families for MRI visits. My research interests are brain development across human lifespan, child and family centered care, customer experiences through the study process and developing MRI scanning preparations for children without any use of drugs. Outside of the work I enjoy training Taekwondo and nowadays also taking first steps as an assisting instructor for juniors. I also enjoy freetime with family and friends in Finnish nature both by feet and riding a motorbike.”

Venla Kumpulainen, MSc., M.D., Doctoral Researcher
“I am master of sciences (MSc) and 5th year medical student working on my PhD thesis on the FinnBrain Neuroimaging Lab under University of Turku Graduate School and Doctoral Programmes. My main responsibilities include recruiting and collecting MR data on 5-year-old participants as well as working on my PhD thesis in the effects of early life stress on white matter development by using diffuse tensor imaging. My research interests more specifically comprise of investigating the mechanisms and effects early life stress has on white matter tracts within the developing brain’s emotional pathways. Outside of academia I like to go jogging, spend time with my friends and participate in different student association activities.”

Elmo Pulli, M.D., Doctoral Researcher
“I am a medical student in University of Turku and am also preparing my PhD thesis on neural features of cognitive skills and executive function in 5-year-olds’ brains. My main responsibilities are data collection and preprocessing of the structural data. My research interests are brain development in the childhood and possible clinical interventions to support healthy childhood development.”

Eero Silver, M.D., Doctoral Researcher
“I am a PhD student in FinnBrain Neuroimaging team, and also a Bachelor of Medicine in the University of Turku. I’m preparing my PhD thesis on the structural maturation of the 5-year-old brains and its effects on cognitive skills and emotional attention. I’m taking part in the MRI data collection and analyses of the 5 year olds between years 2018 and 2020. In our study, my special interests are the structural development of child brain, maturation of cortical surface areas and folding and how these structural findings would affect language development. Apart from my studies I enjoy playing football, wrestling and spending quality time with my friends.”

Anni Copeland, M.D. Doctoral Researcher
“I am a 6th year medical student working on my PhD thesis on the FinnBrain Neuroimaging Lab under University of Turku Graduate School and Doctoral Programmes. My main responsibilities include taking part in MR data collection on 5-year-old participants and working on my PhD thesis. My research interest are brain development and modifying effects of early life stress. In my PhD thesis I have a special focus on how early life stress influences to normal brain development and how it effects to mother-child interaction measured by rs-fMRI. Outside of the academia I do various sports, coach young gymnasts and spend time with friends and family.”

Undergraduate students

Kristian Lidauer, M.B. undergraduate medical student
“I am preparing my MD thesis on MRI segmentation of the subcortical nuclei.”

Pauliina Torkko, M.B. undergraduate medical student
Pauliina is preparing her MD thesis as a review addressing on the preterm-born children’s language development and MR imaging studies

Elena Ukharova, undergraduate student (Human Neuroscience Masters Programme)
“I am preparing my master’s thesis on adult segmentation tools used in 1.5-2.5-year-old and 5-year-old structural MR scans.”

Aylin Rosberg, undergraduate student (Human Neuroscience Masters Programme)
“I am a Human Neuroscience Master’s Programme student and doing my Master’s thesis on tractography in young children.”


Anna Ratilainen has finished her MD thesis with the title: ”Review of Infant EEG Studies in the Context of Maternal Depression and Anxiety”

Pediatric Lab

Childhood chronic diseases, such as atopic disorders (asthma and rhinitis), recurrent infections, obesity/overweight and sensations of pain, are an increasing health problem in western world. Today, 10-15% of small children are overweight, and 30% suffer from different pain or atopic disorders. According to prognoses, the incidence of childhood chronic disorders will increase.

FinnBrain Pediatrics is the pediatric lab of the FinnBrain Birth Cohort Study The aim is to provide information on the trajectories to childhood chronic disorders after prenatal and early postnatal exposures, such as maternal psychological distress. FinnBrain Pediatrics focuses on 1) the trajectories to chronic disorders up to 5 years, and 2) establishing the data collection sweep at the child age of 5 years during 2018-2021 (n=1200 children), including pediatric background history, blood tests, room dust samples to study the role of early-life indoor microbial exposure, and fecal samples to study the role of gut microbiota in the development of chronic disorders. The results may provide implications into the underlying mechanisms of childhood chronic disorders, and thus potentially contribute to prevention.

For more information:
Minna Lukkarinen, MD, PhD
Anna Aatsinki, PhD

Minna Lukkarinen, MD, PhD
Anna Aatsinki, PhD
Laura Korhonen, PhD
Emma Puosi, MD, Doctoral Researcher
Heli-Minttu Hyppänen, BM,
Santtu Heinonen, MD, PhD,
Tuire Lähdesmäki, MD, PhD
Heikki Lukkarinen, MD, PhD, Adjunct Professor
Ville Peltola, MD, PhD, Professor
Linnea Karlsson, MD, PhD, Associate Professor
Hasse Karlsson, MA, MD, PhD, Professor

Perinatal Health

The aim of this project is to identify possible associations between prenatal maternal psychological stress and pregnancy complications as well as obstetric outcomes and adaptation of the newborn. We are also exploring the effects of previous traumatic events on fear of birth. A specific aim is to study placental tissue epigenetics in relation to maternal prenatal stress.

Study group:
Eeva Ekholm, Adjunct Professor,
Linnea Karlsson, Associate Professor, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
Kalle Korhonen, MD, PhD,
Sanni Kuuri-Riutta, Doctoral Researcher,
Riikka Lund, Adjunct Professor
Elvira Porthan, MD,
Nina Pettersson, MD,
Noora Scheinin, MD, PhD
Suoma Saarni, Adjunct Professor
Päivi Polo MD, Professor,
Linda Aukia, Doctoral Researcher,
Hilla Peltonen, Doctoral Researcher,


In Perinatal Health Work Package we are also researching alexithymia.

Alexithymia stands literally for “no words for feelings” and the term is used to describe personality traits characterized by difficulty in identifying and expressing feelings, externally-oriented thinking, and often scarce imagination. Alexithymia was first described in the 1970s in patients with psychosomatic symptoms. Indeed, its wide-ranging associations with, not only mental disorders, but also somatic symptoms and illnesses, has made alexithymia an interesting research subject. However, alexithymia itself is a trait, not a mental or personality disorder.

Our research group aims to improve the understanding of alexithymia, its nature and associations. Although alexithymia is typically associated with lack of emotional expression, alexithymia is not just this. The different dimensions of alexithymia are emphasized in different ways in people, and they also appear to differ, for example, in their links with mental health disorders and symptoms. Certain characteristics may even protect against some symptoms. One of our priorities is to further elucidate these mechanisms and associations. We are also interested in the relationship between alexithymia and lifestyle habits and behavioral addictions. The research on the inheritance of alexithymia and its significance in the growth environment in early childhood has so far been very limited, so we expect to gain completely new and interesting information on, for example, the relationship between parental alexithymia and the child’s growth and development.

Parental alexithymia was assessed with the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) 6 months after the child’s birth. In the future, we plan to assess the children’s alexithymic features using the Alexithymia Questionnaire for Children, which is a child-friendly version of the TAS-20.

Study group:
Hasse Karlsson, Professor
Max Karukivi, Adjunct Professor
Noora Scheinin, Adjunct Professor
Jani Kajanoja, Postdoctoral Researcher
Hanna Ahrnberg, MD, MHSc, MA, Doctoral Researcher
Ru Li, MD, Doctoral Researcher

Population Based Registries

This multidisciplinary project (combining expertise from the social and medical sciences) asks what effects do dimensions of parents’ socioeconomic (e.g. occupational and educational) and family demographic life histories prior to offspring birth have on their children’s health, well-being and development, from early life and beyond. The early years, including the prenatal period, are important for healthy psychological and physical development, and have implications for educational achievement, labor market success, and later-life health and overall well-being. The conditions promoting early life are unevenly distributed between children and their families, therefore implying social inequalities in children’s lives already from the very beginning. This project presents a new longitudinal perspective on the formation of child health, well-being and development during pregnancy and the first year of life by focusing on the effects of the parents’ socioeconomic and demographic life course trajectories from childhood onwards. It offers possibilities for improved understanding of the factors that affect children’s healthy development, the social inequalities in these conditions, and the policy interventions that can be used to promote favorable outcomes. To achieve this, we combine data from the FinnBrain cohort study with population register data to form a unique dataset of parents’ life course trajectories, and parents’ and children’s health.

Study group:
Juho Härkönen, Professor,
Hasse Karlsson, Professor
Linnea Karlsson, Associate Professor, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
Matti Lindberg, MSocSc, DrSocSc
Noora Scheinin, MD, PhD
Sanni Kotimäki, MSocSc, PhD

Speech and Language Lab

A fundamental question in research on language development asks what type of neurocognitive learning mechanisms allow children to learn language based on hearing language in daily social interactions. Although typically this process unfolds apparently effortlessly, children exhibit individual differences in the rate of their development. In the Speech and Language Lab, we are explaining what underlies these individual differences. We use that information to better understand the ways in which neurocognitive mechanisms and social interactions support children’s speech and language development.

In close collaboration with the other FinnBrain Labs and affiliates, we are currently examining e.g. potential effects of early mother-child communication, maternal mental health, child temperament and attentive skills, genetic risk and brain development on speech and acquisition. Our ultimate goal is to build a comprehensive multifactorial of model of risk and protective factors of children’s language development. In addition answering theoretical questions, this model will be useful for identification and treatment of speech and language disorders in children. We collaborate with the Centre of Excellence for Learning Dynamics and Intervention Research (InterLearn)

Study group:

Elina Mainela-Arnold, PhD, Professor of Speech-Language Pathology, University of Turku, Status-Only Appointment, University of Toronto
Pirkko Rautakoski, PhD, University Lecturer, Åbo Akademi University

Doctoral Researchers
Aura Yli-Savola, FM, Speech Therapist, Clinical University Teacher
Essi Vastamäki, FM, Speech Therapist
Denise Ollas, FM, Speech Therapist
Kiia Kurila, FM, Speech Therapist
Minna Vanhala-Haukijärvi, FM, Speech Therapist
Pihla Saaristo, FM, Speech Therapist

Project Researcher
Satu Savo, FM

Research Assistant
Vilma Lindroos

Clinical Masters students in Speech and Language Pathology at the University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University are an essential part of our team.

Tooth Fairy

Maternal stress during pregnancy has been identified as one of the relevant exposures for later offspring health and development. Yet, the underlying mechanisms bridging the exposures with later outcomes remain to be studied and especially measures of direct fetal exposure are lacking. FinnBrain Tooth Fairy -project will fill this gap by examining deciduous (baby) teeth as a potential biomarker for fetal stress exposure. Deciduous teeth start developing from the 14th week of pregnancy onwards and embed signatures of immune system functioning, stress, and chemical exposure. They offer retrospective temporal dissection of fetal and infant chemical milieu of environmental exposure to toxins and endogenous responses to stressors. We aim to investigate how this early milieu is associated with later development, including brain and behavioral development. Professor Manish Arora is the key collaborator in this project (New York, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai).

Study group:
Linnea Karlsson, Associate Professor, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
Hasse Karlsson, Professor
Alex Dickens, PhD, Adjunct Professor
Anna-Katariina Aatsinki, PhD

Vaccine Attitudes

Next to clean water and nutrition, vaccination is widely regarded as one of the most important public health achievements. According to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare ( most parents allow their children to get vaccinated with the vaccines included in the national immunization programme. Previous studies, however, show that people may feel hesitant towards vaccines despite choosing to get vaccinated. How strong the hesitancy is and what the reasons behind the hesitancy are, vary between individuals. Examples of factors behind vaccine hesitancy are a worry about the safety and efficacy of vaccines and a low trust in health authorities that offer and recommend vaccines.

The aim of this subproject that started in 2018, is to investigate to which degree vaccine hesitancy exists in Finland and to study possible reasons behind negative attitudes to vaccines. Parents of small children are an important group when it comes to investigating vaccine attitudes, because their children have the possibility to receive vaccines against several diseases. Better knowledge about the factors that affect the parents’ vaccine attitudes help developing the communication about vaccines between healthcare professionals and patients. Parents in the FinnBrain study answered a longer questionnaire about vaccine attitudes in 2018 and a shorter one during early summer, in 2020.

Senior Researcher:
Anna Soveri, Adjunct Professor (docent)

More information about the research group:

Sleep Study

Sleep disturbances and sleep disorders are common across early childhood, and they may influence the well-being of all family members. In adulthood, insomnia is the most typical sleep disorders, while problems in diurnal rhythm and bedtime habits are more common issues in children. Importantly, both child and adult sleep disturbances can often be effectively treated, although much more information is needed on factors influencing the development of sleep patterns. Moreover, the role of sleep patterns in shaping child neuropsychological development is an important research topic. FinnBrain sleep studies cover both children and adults and target the frequency and stability of sleep disturbances as well as the profiles of typical sleep patterns across childhood development and during pregnancy. One of the special foci is to study how sleep patterns and disturbances influences child development and health. These data will help in the development of targeted treatments for sleep disturbances. The work in FinnBrain is done in close collaboration with the Child Sleep Study (National Institute for Health and Welfare, University of Helsinki, University of Tampere).

Research group:

Juulia Paavonen, MD, Adjunct Professor, Senior Physician
Linnea Karlsson, MD, Physician, Associate Professor
Päivi Polo, MD, Adjunct Professor, Physician
Christine Parsons, University of Oxford, UK & Århus University, Denmark
Linda Aukia, MD, Doctoral Researcher
Hilla Peltonen, MD, Doctoral Researcher
Johanna Pietikäinen, MD
Minna Virta, MD, Doctoral Researcher
Maria Lavonius, MD, Doctoral Researcher
Anniina Karonen, MSc, Doctoral Researcher

Stress and Resilience

Early-life stress (ELS) and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are common and may influence child neurodevelopment and health in multiple ways via prenatal programming, epigenetic mechanisms, or postnatal environmental influences. Exposure to ELS and ACEs have been connected to deviances in child neurodevelopment and attention already in infancy, higher prevalence of social emotional and cognitive problems in childhood, and higher risk for both somatic and mental health problems in adulthood. However, some individuals are more resilient to early-life adverse exposures, and may be unaffected or even fare better than expected.

This study aims to provide information on the biological, cognitive and emotional development of children exposed to ELS and ACEs. Our interest, on one hand, is to understand the developmental mechanisms of psychopathology from pregnancy onwards, and on the other hand, to identify resilience factors supporting the development of children exposed to early adversity.

As part of the longitudinal follow-up of the FinnBrain Birth Cohort children, the parents have filled out questionnaires several times from pregnancy onwards for instance of their own ACEs and current mental health and stress levels. Moreover, we have collected biological data (e.g., brain imaging, blood, saliva and hair samples), and behavioral data (e.g., eye tracking of emotional attention, temperament, neurocognitive measures, parent-child interaction) at multiple timepoints starting from birth from both the children and their parents. Currently, we are collecting data on children’s exposure to ACEs. We interview children using the PEARLS questionnaire on their exposure to Verbal abuse or neglect, Physical abuse or neglect, and/or Sexual abuse. Also, we ask about exposures to community violence, school conflicts etc. Moreover, the parents also report about their children’s exposures via the PEARLS questionnaire. We plan to follow-up the development of the children for decades.

Senior Researchers:
Eeva-Leena Kataja, PhD, Clinical Researcher, Clinical Psychologist, Psychotherapist
Hasse Karlsson, MA, MD, PhD, Professor of Integrative Neuroscience, Principal Investigator of the FinnBrain Birth Cohort Study
Linnea Karlsson, PhD, Associate Professor, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
Jetro J. Tuulari, MD, PhD, Adjunct professor of Cognitive Neuroscience
Heidi Jussila, MD, PhD, Adult and Child Psychiatrist

Doctoral Researchers:
Viivi Mondolin, MSc, Clinical Psychologist
Carlos Sirkiä, MSc, Clinical Psychologist

External Advisor:
Aino Juusola, MSc, Clinical Psychologist

Research Coordinator:
Susanne Sinisalo

Telomeres and Epigenetics

The aim of the substudy is to understand how early life experiences become biologically embedded, to affect future health. The potential mechanisms that we are interested in are epigenetic modifications of the genome, and telomere length and shortening rate.

The functioning of the genome is controlled by so-called epigenetic regulation, which occurs through chemical changes in either DNA or the proteins that bind DNA. These epigenetic changes do not directly affect the genetic code of the genome, but control the organisation of the genome and the regulation of gene function. Epigenetic regulation is sensitive to environmental and lifestyle factors, which can cause temporary or long-term epigenetic changes in the genome and thus affect individual development, traits and health.

Telomeres in turn are repetitive DNA sequences that protect the ends of chromosomes, shortening at each cell division and thus forming an ‘internal clock’. Telomere shortening is part of cellular ageing process, and as telomeres can also shorten in response to stress, they are a candidate mechanism that links early life environment with future health. Here we study how environmental variation links with telomere dynamics, especially to identify factors that may protect individuals from accelerated telomere loss.

Emma Vitikainen, Adjunct professor, Senior researcher
Eeva-Leena Kataja, PhD, Clinical Researcher, Clinical Psychologist, Psychotherapist
Minna Lukkarinen, MD, PhD
Riikka Lund, Adjunct professor, Senior researcher
Viivi Mondolin, MSc, Clinical Psychologist
Jetro Tuulari, MD, PhD, Collegium Researcher
Linnea Karlsson, Associate Professor, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
Hasse Karlsson, Professor
Dries Martens, PhD
Tim Nawrot, Professor
Sonja Entringer, Professor
Stacy Drury, Professor
Tiina Paunio, Professor

Father's Epigenetics

The fathers’ epigenetics substudy explores the associations of father’s lifestyle and life experiences with child’s development. In this sub-study, we are particularly interested in the inheritance of biological characteristics through epigenetic mechanisms. For this purpose, we invite the fathers of the study families to a research visit, where we collect biological samples (blood sample, hair sample, sperm sample). The subject may give their consent separately for each type of sample.

From the blood sample we study specifically laboratory values related to metabolism, inflammation and stress. A hair sample measures long-term stress hormone levels (cortisol, cortisone). From the sperm sample we aim to study how the lifestyle and life experiences of father’s are associated with the health of the offspring. MicroRNA molecules are isolated from the sperm sample. Animal studies (mainly mouse studies) have shown that stress and environmental factors have an effect on the prevalence of various microRNA molecules in gametes. In animal studies, these microRNA molecules have been shown to be involved in the epigenetic regulation of the development of the offspring central nervous system. The purpose of this sub-study is to study the function of these mechanisms in humans and how they could affect the development of the next generation brain.