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Front. Behav. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00286

Methodological challenges in developmental human behavioral epigenetics: Insights into study design

  • 1Eugenio Medea (IRCCS), Italy

Developmental human behavioral epigenetics (DHBE) holds the potential to contribute to a better understanding of how early life exposures contribute to human developmental trajectories and to inform clinical practice and early interventions. Nonetheless, DHBE research to date is challenged by two major issues: (a) the frequent use of retrospective study designs; (b) the major focus on epigenetic variations associated with early life adversities, rather than protective care exposures. In order for DHBE research to maintain its promises, these issues need to be addressed in a systematic way according to a careful methodological planning of study design. In this contribution, we provide pragmatic insights on methodological aspects that should be dealt with while designing DHBE studies. We propose different study designs for the retrospective and prospective investigation of both adversity- and care-related epigenetic variations. Examples from literature are provided to better describe the advantages and the limitations of each study design.

Keywords: Behavioral epigenetics, developmental science, methodology, Study Design, DNA Methylation

Received: 03 Aug 2018; Accepted: 05 Nov 2018.

Edited by:

Walter Adriani, Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS), Italy

Reviewed by:

Yonghe Wu, German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Germany
Richard G. Hunter, University of Massachusetts Boston, United States  

Copyright: © 2018 Provenzi, Brambilla, Borgatti and Montirosso. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Livio Provenzi, Eugenio Medea (IRCCS), Bosisio Parini, Italy, livio.provenzi@lanostrafamiglia.it