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Maternal psychosocial risk factors and offspring gestational epigenetic age acceleration in a South African birth cohort study

By Nastassja Koen, Meaghan Jones, Raymond T. Nhapi, Kirsten A. Donald, Whitney Barnett, Nadia Hoffman, Julia L. MacIsaac, Alexander M Morin, David TS Lin, Michael S Kobor, Karestan C. Koenen, Heather J. Zar, Dan J. Stein

Posted 21 Dec 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/503623

Epigenetic age (EA) acceleration is associated with higher risk of chronic disease and mortality in adults. However, little is known about whether and how in utero exposures might shape gestational EA acceleration at birth. We aimed to explore associations between maternal psychosocial risk factors and offspring gestational EA acceleration at birth in a South African birth cohort study - the Drakenstein Child Health Study. Maternal psychosocial risk factors included trauma/stressor exposure; posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); depression, psychological distress; and alcohol/tobacco use. Offspring gestational EA acceleration at birth was calculated using an epigenetic clock previously devised for neonates. Bivariate linear regression was used to explore unadjusted associations between maternal risk factors and offspring gestational EA acceleration at birth. A stepwise regression method was then used to determine the best multivariable model for adjusted associations. Data from 272 maternal-offspring dyads were included in the current analysis. In the stepwise regression model, maternal trauma exposure (β = 7.92; p<0.01) or PTSD (β = 7.46; p<0.01) were significantly associated with offspring gestational EA acceleration at birth, controlling for ethnicity, offspring sex, head circumference at birth, maternal HIV status, and prenatal tobacco or alcohol use. In site-stratified models, these associations retained statistical significance and direction of effect. Maternal trauma exposure or PTSD may thus be associated with offspring gestational EA acceleration at birth. Given the novelty of this preliminary finding, and its potential translational relevance, further studies to delineate underlying biological pathways and to explore clinical implications of EA acceleration are warranted.

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