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Maternal antenatal anxiety is an emerging risk factor for child emotional development. Both sex and epigenetic mechanisms, such as DNA methylation, may contribute to the embedding of maternal distress into emotional outcomes. Here, we investigated sex-dependent patterns in the association between antenatal maternal trait anxiety, methylation of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor gene (BDNF DNAm), and infant negative emotionality (NE). Mother–infant dyads (N = 276) were recruited at delivery. Maternal trait anxiety, as a marker of antenatal chronic stress exposure, was assessed soon after delivery using the Stait-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI-Y). Infants’ BDNF DNAm at birth was assessed in 11 CpG sites in buccal cells whereas infants’ NE was assessed at 3 (N = 225) and 6 months (N = 189) using the Infant Behavior Questionnaire-Revised (IBQ-R). Hierarchical linear analyses showed that higher maternal antenatal anxiety was associated with greater 6-month-olds’ NE. Furthermore, maternal antenatal anxiety predicted greater infants’ BDNF DNAm in five CpG sites in males but not in females. Higher methylation at these sites was associated with greater 3-to-6-month NE increase, independently of infants’ sex. Maternal antenatal anxiety emerged as a risk factor for infant’s NE. BDNF DNAm might mediate this effect in males. These results may inform the development of strategies to promote mothers and infants’ emotional well-being.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a global traumatic experience for citizens, especially during sensitive time windows of heightened plasticity such as pregnancy and neonatal life. Pandemic-related stress experienced by mothers during pregnancy may act as an early risk factor for infants’ regulatory capacity development by altering maternal psychosocial well-being (e.g., increased anxiety, reduced social support) and caregiving environment (e.g., greater parenting stress, impaired mother–infant bonding). The aim of the present longitudinal study was to assess the consequences of pandemic-related prenatal stress on infants’ regulatory capacity. A sample of 163 mother–infant dyads was enrolled at eight maternity units in northern Italy. They provided complete data about prenatal stress, perceived social support, postnatal anxiety symptoms, parenting stress, mother–infant bonding, and infants’ regulatory capacity at 3 months of age. Women who experienced emotional stress and received partial social support during pregnancy reported higher anxious symptoms. Moreover, maternal postnatal anxiety was indirectly linked to the infants’ regulatory capacity at 3 months, mediated by parenting stress and mother–infant bonding. Dedicated preventive interventions should be delivered to mothers and should be focused on protecting the mother–infant dyad from the detrimental effects of pandemic-related stress during the COVID-19 healthcare emergency.
The presence of subthreshold psychotic symptoms in adolescents with eating disorders is poorly described. This study provides a detailed characterization of adolescents affected by eating disorders in the absence or presence of subthreshold psychotic symptoms, taking into account a wide set of sociodemographic, psychological, and clinical variables.
Ninety-four adolescents diagnosed with eating disorders were interviewed, focusing on clinical anamnesis and sociodemographic data collection. The Comprehensive Assessment of At-Risk Mental States (CAARMS) was used to assess the presence (HR+) or absence (HR−) of subthreshold psychosis. The clinicians completed a questionnaire on eating disorders severity, whereas patients provided self-report measures of global social functioning and psychological symptoms associated with eating disorders.
Attenuated psychotic symptoms were highly frequent (84% of subjects). HR+ patients experienced more frequently purging behaviors and dysmorphophobia and received a greater amount of antipsychotic drugs. Compared to HR− counterparts, HR+ patients reported higher eating disorders severity and psychological symptoms (i.e., ineffectiveness, interpersonal and affective problems) associated with eating disorders. Finally, a significant correlation between global social functioning and eating disorders severity emerged only for HR− subjects.
These descriptive data are warranted to identify a potential psychotic core in eating disorders, mainly concerning body image and weight as well as specific psychological features. The availability of reliable and valid markers of risk can further increase our capacity to detect the early emergence of psychosis in adolescents with eating disorders, whose outcome might be worsened by the presence of psychotic symptoms.
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