Elaine F. Walker
Elaine F. Walker’s lifetime of outstanding scholarly achievements has been instrumental in propelling the field of adolescent mental health forward in innovative directions, with important implications for public health and development of novel preventive interventions. She has pioneered a unique path toward better understanding the etiology of schizophrenia from a neurodevelopmental perspective.
Early in her career, Walker published research on psychosis vulnerability markers and offered a meta-analysis on intelligence in psychosis that served as a benchmark for decades of neurocognition research. In 1990, she put forward the first of a series of seminal papers resulting from her world-renowned archival research study of developmental precursors of schizophrenia. Walker retrospectively examined childhood home movies of adult-onset schizophrenia patients and their healthy siblings using quantifiable behavioral observations. This rigorous scientific approach was groundbreaking in examining real-time longitudinal predictions of schizophrenia across the early developmental trajectory, including an important window into neuromaturation not previously captured in psychosis risk research. Among Walker’s prominent findings was evidence of early neuromotor abnormalities that bolstered her theory that the schizophrenia predisposition involves hyperdopaminergic activity (influenced by developmentally triggered hormonal changes) in the basal ganglia, which disrupts multiple neural circuits and contributes to behavioral expression of psychotic symptoms during adolescence and adulthood.
More recently, Walker’s neural-diathesis stress model proposed a novel neural mechanism involving effects of stress on schizophrenia vulnerability; namely, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) augmentation of dopaminergic activity. Her subsequent evidence of HPA disruption in psychosis risk crystallized the notion that neuromaturational processes accompanying adolescence influence psychosis.
Walker’s visionary capacity is complemented by her humility, compassion, and integrity; her aptitude for teaching and mentoring; and her dedication to public health. She provides inspiration to current and future generations of scientists, which undoubtedly will help advance scientific discovery.