Am J Epidemiol. 2024 May 17:kwae072. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwae072. Online ahead of print.


Childhood adversity is an important risk factor for adverse health across the life course. Epigenetic modifications, such as DNA methylation (DNAm), are one hypothesized mechanism linking adversity to disease susceptibility. Yet, few studies have determined whether adversity-related DNAm alterations are causally related to future health outcomes or if their developmental timing plays a role in these relationships. Here, we used two-sample Mendelian Randomization to obtain stronger causal inferences about the association between adversity-associated DNAm loci across development (i.e., birth; childhood; adolescence; young adulthood) and 24 mental, physical, and behavioral health outcomes. We identified particularly strong associations between adversity-associated DNAm and ADHD, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, suicide attempts, asthma, coronary artery disease, and chronic kidney disease. A greater number of associations were identified for birth and childhood DNAm, while adolescent and young adulthood DNAm were more closely linked to mental health. Childhood DNAm loci also showed primarily risk suppressing relationships with health outcomes, suggesting that DNAm might reflect compensatory or buffering mechanisms against childhood adversity, rather than acting solely as an indicator of disease risk. Together, our results suggest adversity-related DNAm alterations are linked to both physical and mental health outcomes, with particularly strong impacts of DNAm differences emerging earlier in development.

PMID:38754872 | DOI:10.1093/aje/kwae072