Childhood adversity and DNA methylation in two population-based cohorts

Lotte Houtepen, R. Hardy, Jane Maddock, Diana Kuh, Emma Anderson, Caroline Relton, Matthew Suderman, Laura Howe*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
226 Downloads (Pure)


Childhood adversity affects later health, but the underlying molecular mechanisms are unclear. Although there is some evidence from animal models and case-control studies of a role for DNA methylation, evidence from human population-based studies is limited. In two cohorts (mothers from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, ALSPAC, n = 780 and women from the MRC National Survey of Health and Development, NSHD, n = 552), we assessed the association of seven adverse childhood experiences (ACEs: parental physical illness, parental mental illness, parental death, parental separation, suboptimal maternal bonding, childhood illness and child maltreatment) as well as their combination (ACE score) with genome-wide DNA methylation levels measured using the Illumina Infinium HumanMethylation450 BeadChip in peripheral blood at mean age 47 years (ALSPAC) and in buccal cells at age 53 years (NSHD). CpG sites with a genome-wide false discovery rate (FDR) below 0.05 and differentially methylated regions (DMRs) with one-step Šidák correction p-values below 0.05 in each cohort were examined in the other cohort. No individual CpG sites replicated across cohorts. However, nine DMRs replicated across cohorts respectively associated with the ACE score (one region), parental mental illness (two regions), parental physical illness (three regions) and parental death (three regions). These observations indicate that some adverse childhood experiences, notably those related to parental health, may leave imprints on peripheral DNA methylation that persist to mid-life.

Original languageEnglish
Article number266
Number of pages12
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2018


  • childhood
  • adversity
  • NSHD
  • epigenetic

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