Epigenetic influence of social experiences across the lifespan
The critical role of social interactions in driving phenotypic variation has long been inferred from the association between early social deprivation and adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes. Recent evidence has implicated molecular pathways involved in the regulation of gene expression as one possible route through which these long-term outcomes are achieved. These epigenetic effects, though not exclusive to social experiences, may be a mechanism through which the quality of the social environment becomes embedded at a biological level. Moreover, there is increasing evidence for the transgenerational impact of these early experiences mediated through changes in social and reproductive behavior exhibited in adulthood. In this review, recent studies which highlight the epigenetic effects of parent-offspring, peer and adult social interactions both with and across generations will be discussed and the implications of this research for understanding the developmental origins of individual differences in brain and behavior will be explored.