DNA Methylation Signatures of Early Childhood Malnutrition Associated With Impairments in Attention and Cognition

Cyril J. Peter, Laura K. Fischer, Marija Kundakovic, Paras Garg, Mira Jakovcevski, Aslihan Dincer, Ana C. Amaral, Edward I. Ginns, Marzena Galdzicka, Cyralene P. Bryce, Chana Ratner, Deborah P. Waber, David Mokler, Gayle Medford, Frances A. Champagne, Douglas L. Rosene, Jill A. McGaughy, Andrew J. Sharp, Janina R. Galler, Schahram Akbarian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


Background Early childhood malnutrition affects 113 million children worldwide, impacting health and increasing vulnerability for cognitive and behavioral disorders later in life. Molecular signatures after childhood malnutrition, including the potential for intergenerational transmission, remain unexplored. Methods We surveyed blood DNA methylomes (~483,000 individual CpG sites) in 168 subjects across two generations, including 50 generation 1 individuals hospitalized during the first year of life for moderate to severe protein-energy malnutrition, then followed up to 48 years in the Barbados Nutrition Study. Attention deficits and cognitive performance were evaluated with the Connors Adult Attention Rating Scale and Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence. Expression of nutrition-sensitive genes was explored by quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction in rat prefrontal cortex. Results We identified 134 nutrition-sensitive, differentially methylated genomic regions, with most (87%) specific for generation 1. Multiple neuropsychiatric risk genes, including COMT, IFNG, MIR200B, SYNGAP1, and VIPR2 showed associations of specific methyl-CpGs with attention and IQ. IFNG expression was decreased in prefrontal cortex of rats showing attention deficits after developmental malnutrition. Conclusions Early childhood malnutrition entails long-lasting epigenetic signatures associated with liability for attention and cognition, and limited potential for intergenerational transmission.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)765-774
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number10
StatePublished - 15 Nov 2016


  • Attention deficits
  • Childhood malnutrition
  • Cognition
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetics
  • Prefrontal cortex


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