Epigenetic Vestiges of Early Developmental Adversity: Childhood Stress Exposure and DNA Methylation in Adolescence

Fifteen-year-old adolescents (N=109) in a longitudinal study of child development were recruited to examine differences in DNA methylation in relation to parent reports of adversity during the adolescents’ infancy and preschool periods. Microarray technology applied to 28,000 cytosine-guanine dinucleotide (CpG) sites within DNA derived from buccal epithelial cells showed differential methylation among adolescents whose parents reported high levels of stress during their children’s early lives. Maternal stressors in infancy and paternal stressors in the preschool years were most strongly predictive of differential methylation, and the patterning of such epigenetic marks varied by children’s gender. To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first report of prospective associations between adversities in early childhood and the epigenetic conformation of adolescents’ genomic DNA.

Publication Date

January 2013

Publication Name

Child Development

Violence type

Marilyn J. Essex, W. Thomas Boyce, Clyde Hertzman, Lucia L. Lam, Jeffrey M. Armstrong, Sarah M.A. Neumann, and Michael S. Kobor