Data_Sheet_1_Does Prenatal Stress Shape Postnatal Resilience? – An Epigenome-Wide Study on Violence and Mental Health in Humans.pdf

Stress during pregnancy widely associates with epigenetic changes and psychiatric problems during childhood. Animal studies, however, show that under specific postnatal conditions prenatal stress may have other, less detrimental consequences for the offspring. Here, we studied mental health and epigenome-wide DNA methylation in saliva following intimate partner violence (IPV) during pregnancy in São Gonçalo, a Brazilian city with high levels of violence. Not surprisingly, mothers exposed to pregnancy IPV expressed elevated depression, PTSD and anxiety symptoms. Children had similar psychiatric problems when they experienced maternal IPV after being born. More surprisingly, when maternal IPV occurred both during (prenatal) and after pregnancy these problems were absent. Following prenatal IPV, genomic sites in genes encoding the glucocorticoid receptor (NR3C1) and its repressor FKBP51 (FKBP5) were among the most differentially methylated and indicated an enhanced ability to terminate hormonal stress responses in prenatally stressed children. These children also showed more DNA methylation in heterochromatin-like regions, which previously has been associated with stress/disease resilience. A similar relationship was seen in prenatally stressed middle-eastern refugees of the same age as the São Gonçalo children but exposed to postnatal war-related violence. While our study is limited in location and sample size, it provides novel insights on how prenatal stress may epigenetically shape resilience in humans, possibly through interactions with the postnatal environment. This translates animal findings and emphasizes the importance to account for population differences when studying how early life gene–environment interactions affects mental health.