Maternal attachment insecurity, maltreatment history, and depressive symptoms are associated with broad DNA methylation signatures in infants

Thalia K. Robakis, Marissa C. Roth, Lucy S. King, Kathryn L. Humphreys, Marcus Ho, Xianglong Zhang, Yuhao Chen, Tongbin Li, Natalie L. Rasgon, Kathleen T. Watson, Alexander E. Urban, Ian H. Gotlib

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The early environment, including maternal characteristics, provides many cues to young organisms that shape their long-term physical and mental health. Identifying the earliest molecular events that precede observable developmental outcomes could help identify children in need of support prior to the onset of physical and mental health difficulties. In this study, we examined whether mothers’ attachment insecurity, maltreatment history, and depressive symptoms were associated with alterations in DNA methylation patterns in their infants, and whether these correlates in the infant epigenome were associated with socioemotional and behavioral functioning in toddlerhood. We recruited 156 women oversampled for histories of depression, who completed psychiatric interviews and depression screening during pregnancy, then provided follow-up behavioral data on their children at 18 months. Buccal cell DNA was obtained from 32 of their infants for a large-scale analysis of methylation patterns across 5 × 106 individual CpG dinucleotides, using clustering-based significance criteria to control for multiple comparisons. We found that tens of thousands of individual infant CpGs were alternatively methylated in association with maternal attachment insecurity, maltreatment in childhood, and antenatal and postpartum depressive symptoms, including genes implicated in developmental patterning, cell-cell communication, hormonal regulation, immune function/inflammatory response, and neurotransmission. Density of DNA methylation at selected genes from the result set was also significantly associated with toddler socioemotional and behavioral problems. This is the first report to identify novel regions of the human infant genome at which DNA methylation patterns are associated longitudinally both with maternal characteristics and with offspring socioemotional and behavioral problems in toddlerhood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3306-3315
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2022


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