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Hum Genomics. 2017 Dec 16;11(1):34. doi: 10.1186/s40246-017-0129-z.

Early-life adversity and long-term neurobehavioral outcomes: epigenome as a bridge?

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Laboratory of Epigenetics, Institute of Gerontology, Vyshgorodskaya st. 67, Kiev, 04114, Ukraine.
Laboratory of Epigenetics, Institute of Gerontology, Vyshgorodskaya st. 67, Kiev, 04114, Ukraine.


Accumulating evidence suggests that adversities at critical periods in early life, both pre- and postnatal, can lead to neuroendocrine perturbations, including hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysregulation and inflammation persisting up to adulthood. This process, commonly referred to as biological embedding, may cause abnormal cognitive and behavioral functioning, including impaired learning, memory, and depressive- and anxiety-like behaviors, as well as neuropsychiatric outcomes in later life. Currently, the regulation of gene activity by epigenetic mechanisms is suggested to be a key player in mediating the link between adverse early-life events and adult neurobehavioral outcomes. Role of particular genes, including those encoding glucocorticoid receptor, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, as well as arginine vasopressin and corticotropin-releasing factor, has been demonstrated in triggering early adversity-associated pathological conditions. This review is focused on the results from human studies highlighting the causal role of epigenetic mechanisms in mediating the link between the adversity during early development, from prenatal stages through infancy, and adult neuropsychiatric outcomes. The modulation of epigenetic pathways involved in biological embedding may provide promising direction toward novel therapeutic strategies against neurological and cognitive dysfunctions in adult life.


Biological embedding; DNA methylation; Early-life adversity; Epigenetics; Neurobehavioral outcomes

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