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Prenatal adversity shapes child neurodevelopment and risk for later mental health problems. The quality of the early care environment can buffer some of the negative effects of prenatal adversity on child development. Retrospective studies, in adult samples, highlight epigenetic modifications as sentinel markers of the quality of the early care environment; however, comparable data from pediatric cohorts are lacking. Participants were drawn from the Maternal Adversity Vulnerability and Neurodevelopment (MAVAN) study, a longitudinal cohort with measures of infant attachment, infant development, and child mental health. Children provided buccal epithelial samples (mean age = 6.99, SD = 1.33 years, n = 226), which were used for analyses of genome-wide DNA methylation and genetic variation. We used a series of linear models to describe the association between infant attachment and (a) measures of child outcome and (b) DNA methylation across the genome. Paired genetic data was used to determine the genetic contribution to DNA methylation at attachment-associated sites. Infant attachment style was associated with infant cognitive development (Mental Development Index) and behavior (Behavior Rating Scale) assessed with the Bayley Scales of Infant Development at 36 months. Infant attachment style moderated the effects of prenatal adversity on Behavior Rating Scale scores at 36 months. Infant attachment was also significantly associated with a principal component that accounted for 11.9% of the variation in genome-wide DNA methylation. These effects were most apparent when comparing children with a secure versus a disorganized attachment style and most pronounced in females. The availability of paired genetic data revealed that DNA methylation at approximately half of all infant attachment-associated sites was best explained by considering both infant attachment and child genetic variation. This study provides further evidence that infant attachment can buffer some of the negative effects of early adversity on measures of infant behavior. We also highlight the interplay between infant attachment and child genotype in shaping variation in DNA methylation. Such findings provide preliminary evidence for a molecular signature of infant attachment and may help inform attachment-focused early intervention programs.
Inheritance is associated with a paradox: it roars with the survival of the species, while at the same time it whispers a fragile message that is constantly modified even among kin. The genes, the environmental context and the traits that arise from their interaction are interrelated. A complexity that characterises this three-way relationship has been attributed to the nature–nurture dichotomy. Traditionally, nature is understood to mean the genes, whereas nurture denotes the environment. So, for example, people may debate why one pumpkin is superior to another – was it the quality of the soil or other growth conditions in the pumpkin patch, or was it the specific combination of alleles in that pumpkin's genome?
In recent years, there has been a long-overdue paradigm shift from a limited focus on the nature–nurture dichotomy to a more expansive view that includes gene by environment (G × E) interactions and even gene–environment (G ↔ E) interdependencies, as defined and discussed in this chapter (Rutter 2007). A mechanistic basis for the concept of interdependency arose from advances in molecular biology and genomics which show that DNA is not only inherited but is also environmentally responsive. The latter argument is supported by findings that individuals with dissimilarities in their DNA (DNA polymorphisms) are differentially affected by the same environment. Different environments through development and adulthood can affect individuals with one genetic variant but not another.
Drosophila melanogaster, like other organisms, move and orient themselves in response to the earth's gravitational force. The ability to sense and respond to gravity is essential for an organism to navigate and thrive in its environment. The genes underlying this behaviour in Drosophila remain elusive. Using 88 recombinant inbred lines, we have identified four quantitative trait loci (QTLs) that contribute to adult gravitaxis (geotaxis) behaviour in Drosophila. Candidate genes of interest were selected from the QTLs of highest significance based on their function in chordotonal organ formation. Quantitative complementation tests with these candidate genes revealed a role for skittles in adult gravitaxis behaviour in D. melanogaster.