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Review ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychiatry | doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00808

Epigenetic modifications in stress response genes associated with childhood trauma

  • 1Department of Medical Genetics, University of Alberta, Canada
  • 2Department of Oncology, University of Alberta, Canada
  • 3Biological Psychiatry Unit, Scientific Institutes of Hospitalization and Care, Italy
  • 4Department of Translational Research in Psychiatry, Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry (MPI), Germany
  • 5Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University, United States
  • 6Department of Medical Genetics and Department of Psychiatry, University of Alberta, Canada

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) may be referred to by other terms (e.g., early life adversity or stress and childhood trauma) and have a lifelong impact on mental and physical health. For example, ACEs have been associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The heritability of ACE-related phenotypes such as PTSD, depression and resilience is low to moderate, and, moreover, is very variable for a given phenotype, which implies that gene by environment interactions (such as through epigenetic modifications) might be involved in the onset of these phenotypes.
Currently, there is increasing interest in the investigation of epigenetic contributions to ACE-induced differential health outcomes. Although there are a number of studies in this field, there are still research gaps.
In this review, the basic concept of epigenetic modifications (such as methylation) and the function of the hypothalamo–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis in the stress response is outlined. Examples of specific genes undergoing methylation association with ACE-induced differential health outcomes are provided. Limitations in this field, e.g., uncertain clinical diagnosis, conceptual inconsistencies, and technical drawbacks are reviewed, with suggestions for advances using new technologies and novel research directions. We thereby provide a platform on which the field of ACE-induced phenotypes in mental health may build.

Keywords: epigenetic association studies, the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis (HPA) axis, Mental Health, Stress disorders, childhood trauma

Received: 07 Jun 2019; Accepted: 11 Oct 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Jiang, Postovit, Cattaneo, Binder and Aitchison. 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. Katherine J. Aitchison, University of Alberta, Department of Medical Genetics and Department of Psychiatry, Edmonton, SE5 8AF, Canada,