In recent years, translational research involving humans and animals has uncovered biological and physiological pathways that explain associations between early adverse circumstances and long-term mental and physical health outcomes. In this article, we summarize the human and animal literature demonstrating that epigenetic alterations in key biological systems, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis and immune system, may underlie such disparities. We review evidence suggesting that changes in DNA methylation profiles of the genome may be responsible for the alterations in hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis and immune system trajectories. Using some preliminary data, we demonstrate how explorations of genome-wide and candidate-gene DNA methylation profiles may inform hypotheses and guide future research efforts in these areas. We conclude our article by discussing the many important future directions, merging perspectives from developmental psychology, molecular genetics, neuroendocrinology, and immunology, that are essential for furthering our understanding of how early adverse circumstances may shape developmental trajectories, particularly in the areas of stress reactivity and physical or mental health.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health