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Maternal Adversity and Epigenetic Age Acceleration Predict Heightened Emotional Reactivity in Offspring: Implications for Intergenerational Transmission of Risk

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Abstract

Black American women are disproportionately exposed to adversities that may have an intergenerational impact on mental health. The present study examined whether maternal exposure to adversity and epigenetic age acceleration (EAA; a biomarker of stress exposure) predicts the socioemotional health of her offspring. During pregnancy, 180 Black American women self-reported experiences of childhood adversity and marginalization-related adversity (i.e., racial discrimination and gendered racial stress) and provided a blood sample for epigenetic assessment. At a three-year follow-up visit, women reported their offspring’s emotional reactivity (an early indicator of psychopathology) via the CBCL/1.5–5. After adjusting for maternal education and offspring sex, results indicated that greater maternal experiences of childhood trauma (β = 0.21, SE(β) = 0.01; p = 0.01) and racial discrimination (β = 0.14, SE(β) = 0.07; p = 0.049) predicted greater offspring emotional reactivity, as did maternal EAA (β = 0.17, SE(β) = 0.09, p = 0.046). Our findings suggest that maternal EAA could serve as an early biomarker for intergenerational risk conferred by maternal adversity, and that ‘maternal adversity’ must be defined more broadly to include social marginalization, particularly for Black Americans.

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Acknowledgements

First and foremost, we would like to thank the families who participated in this research for their trust and commitment to science. We also thank Julie Carroll for her management of this project and all other members of the BUILD Lab for their assistance with data collection. This work was supported by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities [R01MD009746 to PAB and EJC; R01MD009064 to AKS and ALD], National Institute of Nursing Research [R01NR014800 to EJC and ALD], and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences [R24ES029490 to ALD]. Author BGM was supported by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (DGE-1444932) and author JC was supported by Emory University’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program.

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McKenna, B.G., Choi, J., Brennan, P.A. et al. Maternal Adversity and Epigenetic Age Acceleration Predict Heightened Emotional Reactivity in Offspring: Implications for Intergenerational Transmission of Risk. Res Child Adolesc Psychopathol 51, 1753–1767 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-022-00981-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-022-00981-7

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