Stress is an inevitable part of human life and it is experienced even before birth. Stress to some extent could be
considered normal and even necessary for the survival and the regular psychological development during childhood or
adolescence. However, exposure to prolonged stress could become harmful and strongly impact mental health increasing
the risk of developing psychiatric disorders.
Recent studies have attempted to clarify how the human central nervous system (CNS) reacts to early life stress, focusing
mainly on neurobiological modifications. Oxidative stress, defined as a disequilibrium between the oxidant generation and the antioxidant
response, has been recently described as a candidate for most of the observed modifications.
In this review, we will discuss how prolonged stressful events during childhood or adolescence (such as early maternal separation, parental
divorce, physical violence, sexual or psychological abuses, or exposure to war events) can lead to increased oxidative stress in the
CNS and enhance the risk to develop psychiatric diseases such as anxiety, depression, drug abuse or psychosis. Defining the sources of
oxidative stress following exposure to early life stress might open new beneficial insights in therapeutic approaches to these mental disorders.