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This study investigated the potential environmental effects of peer victimization and the quality of relationships with parents and friends on diurnal cortisol secretion in mid-adolescence.
This study used the monozygotic (MZ) twin-difference design to control for genetic effects and thus estimate the unique environmental influences on diurnal cortisol. Participants were 136 MZ twin pairs (74 female pairs) for whom cortisol was assessed four times per day over four collection days grouped in a 2-week period in grade 8 (mean age = 14.07 years). Participants also provided self-reports of peer victimization from grade 4 to grade 8 and of the relationship quality with the mother, father and best friend in grade 8.
The expected pattern of diurnal cortisol secretion was observed, with high levels at awakening followed by an increase 30 min later and a progressive decrease subsequently. Controlling for a host of confounders, only within-twin pair differences in peer victimization and a problematic relationship with the mother were significantly linked to twin differences in diurnal cortisol secretion. Specifically, whereas a more problematic mother–child relationship was associated with morning cortisol secretion, peer victimization was linked to cortisol secretion later in the day (diurnal slope).
Controlling for genetic influences and other confounders, stressful relationships with peers and the mother exert unique and time-specific environmental influences on the pattern of diurnal cortisol secretion in mid-adolescence.
Physical aggression (PA) tends to have its onset in infancy and to increase rapidly in frequency. Very little is known about the genetic and environmental etiology of PA development during early childhood. We investigated the temporal pattern of genetic and environmental etiology of PA during this crucial developmental period.
Participants were 667 twin pairs, including 254 monozygotic and 413 dizygotic pairs, from the ongoing longitudinal Quebec Newborn Twin Study. Maternal reports of PA were obtained from three waves of data at 20, 32 and 50 months. These reports were analysed using a biometric Cholesky decomposition and linear latent growth curve model.
The best-fitting Cholesky model revealed developmentally dynamic effects, mostly genetic attenuation and innovation. The contribution of genetic factors at 20 months substantially decreased over time, while new genetic effects appeared later on. The linear latent growth curve model revealed a significant moderate increase in PA from 20 to 50 months. Two separate sets of uncorrelated genetic factors accounted for the variation in initial level and growth rate. Non-shared and shared environments had no effect on the stability, initial status and growth rate in PA.
Genetic factors underlie PA frequency and stability during early childhood; they are also responsible for initial status and growth rate in PA. The contribution of shared environment is modest, and perhaps limited, as it appears only at 50 months. Future research should investigate the complex nature of these dynamic genetic factors through genetic–environment correlation (rGE) and interaction (G × E) analyses.
Childhood adverse experiences are known to induce persistent changes in the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis reactivity to stress. However, the mechanisms by which these experiences shape the neuroendocrine response to stress remain unclear.
We tested whether bullying victimization influenced serotonin transporter gene (SERT) DNA methylation using a discordant monozygotic (MZ) twin design. A subsample of 28 MZ twin pairs discordant for bullying victimization, with data on cortisol and DNA methylation, were identified in the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, a nationally representative 1994–1995 cohort of families with twins.
Bullied twins had higher SERT DNA methylation at the age of 10 years compared with their non-bullied MZ co-twins. This group difference cannot be attributed to the children's genetic makeup or their shared familial environments because of the study design. Bullied twins also showed increasing methylation levels between the age of 5 years, prior to bullying victimization, and the age of 10 years whereas no such increase was detected in non-bullied twins across time. Moreover, children with higher SERT methylation levels had blunted cortisol responses to stress.
Our study extends findings drawn from animal models, supports the hypothesis that early-life stress modifies DNA methylation at a specific cytosine–phosphate–guanine (CpG) site in the SERT promoter and HPA functioning and suggests that these two systems may be functionally associated.
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