Prenatal maternal distress and immune cell epigenetic profiles at 3-months of age

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Background: Prenatal maternal distress predicts altered offspring immune outcomes, potentially via altered epigenetics. The role of different kinds of prenatal maternal distress on DNA methylation profiles is not understood. Methods: A sample of 117 women (APrON cohort) were followed from pregnancy to the postpartum period. Maternal distress (depressive symptoms, pregnancy-specific anxiety, stressful life events) were assessed mid-pregnancy, late-pregnancy, and 3-months postpartum. DNA methylation profiles were obtained from 3-month-old blood samples. Principal component analysis identified two epigenetic components, characterized as Immune Signaling and DNA Transcription through gene network analysis. Covariates were maternal demographics, pre-pregnancy body mass index, child sex, birth gestational age, and postpartum maternal distress. Penalized regression (LASSO) models were used. Results: Late-pregnancy stressful life events, b = 0.006, early-pregnancy depressive symptoms, b = 0.027, late-pregnancy depressive symptoms, b = 0.014, and pregnancy-specific anxiety during late pregnancy, b = −0.631, were predictive of the Immune Signaling component, suggesting that these aspects of maternal distress could affect methylation in offspring immune signaling pathways. Only early-pregnancy depressive symptoms was predictive of the DNA Transcription component, b = −0.0004, suggesting that this aspect of maternal distress is implicated in methylation of offspring DNA transcription pathways. Conclusions: Exposure timing and kind of prenatal maternal distress could matter in the prediction of infant immune epigenetic profiles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)973-984
Number of pages12
JournalDevelopmental Psychobiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jul. 2021


  • APrON Study
  • depressive symptoms
  • epigenetics
  • fetal programming hypothesis
  • gene network analysis
  • pregnancy-specific anxiety
  • principal component analysis
  • stress


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