Epigenetic Modifications in Stress Response Genes Associated With Childhood Trauma: Frontiers in Psychiatry

S. Jiang, L. Postovit, A. Cattaneo, E.B. Binder, K.J. Aitchison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) may be referred to by other terms (e.g., early life adversity or stress and childhood trauma) and have a lifelong impact on mental and physical health. For example, childhood trauma has been associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The heritability of ACE-related phenotypes such as PTSD, depression, and resilience is low to moderate, and, moreover, is very variable for a given phenotype, which implies that gene by environment interactions (such as through epigenetic modifications) may be involved in the onset of these phenotypes. Currently, there is increasing interest in the investigation of epigenetic contributions to ACE-induced differential health outcomes. Although there are a number of studies in this field, there are still research gaps. In this review, the basic concepts of epigenetic modifications (such as methylation) and the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in the stress response are outlined. Examples of specific genes undergoing methylation in association with ACE-induced differential health outcomes are provided. Limitations in this field, e.g., uncertain clinical diagnosis, conceptual inconsistencies, and technical drawbacks, are reviewed, with suggestions for advances using new technologies and novel research directions. We thereby provide a platform on which the field of ACE-induced phenotypes in mental health may build. © Copyright © 2019 Jiang, Postovit, Cattaneo, Binder and Aitchison.
Original languageEnglish
Article number808
JournalFront. Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • childhood trauma
  • epigenetic association studies
  • mental health
  • stress disorders
  • the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA)
  • BDNF gene
  • childhood adversity
  • CRISPR-CAS9 system
  • DNA methylation
  • DNA modification
  • epigenetics
  • FKBP5 gene
  • gene
  • genetic association
  • genetic variability
  • HTR gene
  • human
  • hypothalamus hypophysis adrenal system
  • MAOA gene
  • nonhuman
  • NR3C1 gene
  • phenotype
  • phenotypic variation
  • posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Review
  • sex difference
  • single nucleotide polymorphism
  • SLC6A4 gene
  • variable number of tandem repeat

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