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Maternal antenatal depression strongly influences child mental health but with considerable inter-individual variation that is, in part, linked to genotype. The challenge is to effectively capture the genotypic influence. We outline a novel approach to describe genomic susceptibility to maternal antenatal depression focusing on child emotional/behavioral difficulties. Two cohorts provided measures of maternal depression, child genetic variation, and child mental health symptoms. We constructed a conventional polygenic risk score (PRS) for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (PRSADHD) that significantly moderated the association between maternal antenatal depression and internalizing problems at 60 months (p = 2.94 × 10−4, R2 = .18). We then constructed an interaction PRS (xPRS) based on a subset of those single nucleotide polymorphisms from the PRSADHD that most accounted for the moderation of the association between maternal antenatal depression and child outcome. The interaction between maternal antenatal depression and this xPRS accounted for a larger proportion of the variance in child emotional/behavioral problems than models based on any PRSADHD (p = 5.50 × 10−9, R2 = .27), with similar findings in the replication cohort. The xPRS was significantly enriched for genes involved in neuronal development and synaptic function. Our study illustrates a novel approach to the study of genotypic moderation on the impact of maternal antenatal depression on child mental health and highlights the utility of the xPRS approach. These findings advance our understanding of individual differences in the developmental origins of mental health.
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.
Internationally adopted adolescents who are adopted as young children from conditions of poverty and deprivation have poorer physical and mental health outcomes than do adolescents conceived, born, and raised in the United States by families similar to those who adopt internationally. Using a sample of Russian and Eastern European adoptees to control for Caucasian race and US birth, and nonadopted offspring of well-educated and well-resourced parents to control for postadoption conditions, we hypothesized that the important differences in environments, conception to adoption, might be reflected in epigenetic patterns between groups, specifically in DNA methylation. Thus, we conducted an epigenome-wide association study to compare DNA methylation profiles at approximately 416,000 individual CpG loci from peripheral blood mononuclear cells of 50 adopted youth and 33 nonadopted youth. Adopted youth averaged 22 months at adoption, and both groups averaged 15 years at testing; thus, roughly 80% of their lives were lived in similar circumstances. Although concurrent physical health did not differ, cell-type composition predicted using the DNA methylation data revealed a striking difference in the white blood cell-type composition of the adopted and nonadopted youth. After correcting for cell type and removing invariant probes, 30 CpG sites in 19 genes were more methylated in the adopted group. We also used an exploratory functional analysis that revealed that 223 gene ontology terms, clustered in neural and developmental categories, were significantly enriched between groups.
Early life environments interact with genotype to determine stable phenotypic outcomes. Here we examined the influence of a variant in the brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) gene (Val66Met), which underlies synaptic plasticity throughout the central nervous system, on the degree to which antenatal maternal anxiety associated with neonatal DNA methylation. We also examined the association between neonatal DNA methylation and brain substructure volume, as a function of BDNF genotype. Infant, but not maternal, BDNF genotype dramatically influences the association of antenatal anxiety on the epigenome at birth as well as that between the epigenome and neonatal brain structure. There was a greater impact of antenatal maternal anxiety on the DNA methylation of infants with the methionine (Met)/Met compared to both Met/valine (Val) and Val/Val genotypes. There were significantly more cytosine–phosphate–guanine sites where methylation levels covaried with right amygdala volume among Met/Met compared with both Met/Val and Val/Val carriers. In contrast, more cytosine–phosphate–guanine sites covaried with left hippocampus volume in Val/Val infants compared with infants of the Met/Val or Met/Met genotype. Thus, antenatal Maternal Anxiety × BDNF Val66Met Polymorphism interactions at the level of the epigenome are reflected differently in the structure of the amygdala and the hippocampus. These findings suggest that BDNF genotype regulates the sensitivity of the methylome to early environment and that differential susceptibility to specific environmental conditions may be both tissue and function specific.
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