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Pediatrics. 2009 Nov;124 Suppl 3:S196-202. doi: 10.1542/peds.2009-1100G.

Conceptualizing child health disparities: a role for developmental neurogenomics.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, and School of Public Health, Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California, 3210 Tolman Hall, MC 1650, Berkeley, CA 94720-1650, USA.


Biological, psychological, and social processes interact over a lifetime to influence health and vulnerability to disease. Those interested in studying and understanding how and why racial/ethnic and social disparities emerge need to focus on the intersection of these processes. Recent work exploring molecular epigenetic mechanisms of gene expression (in humans as well and other mammalian systems) has provided evidence demonstrating that the genome is subject to regulation by surrounding contexts (eg, cytoplasmic, cellular, organismic, social). The developing stress axis is exquisitely sensitive to regulation by social forces represented at the level of the epigenome. Old assumptions about an inert genome are simply incorrect. Epigenetic processes may provide the missing link that will allow us to understand how social and political conditions, along with individual subjective experiences, can directly alter gene expression and thereby contribute to observed social inequalities in health. Developmental neurogenomics may provide the direct link between the biological and social/psychological worlds. These biological mechanisms of plasticity (at the level of gene expression and regulation) may play a profound role in how we conceptualize health inequalities by informing our concepts regarding the somatization or embodiment of social inequalities.

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