Pre-, peri- and postnatal Stress in human and non-human offspring: a translational approach to study Epigenetic Impact on DepressiON


Exposure to adversity in early life contributes to later disease with regulation of gene expression mediating effects of early life stress (ELS) on adult behavior and health. Project 1 will characterize 400 children with umbilical cord blood and mucosal swabs (at birth, age of 6 months) for analysis of DNA methylation. Also, protective environments (attachment, breastfeeding) will be examined. Project 2 will study non-human primates (nursery vs. maternal rearing) allowing access to prefrontal cortex and T cells. Longitudinal data will provide a causal/temporal relationship between ELS and DNA methylation and will allow establishing which of early changes remain permanent. The methylome maps will be compared with human data, will inform on peripheral epigenetic responses to ELS, how they relate to behavior and brain methylomes and how they affect phenotype. A collection of brain and peripheral biomarkers will be generated. Project 3 combines subprojects investigating epigenetic effects of pre- and postnatal environmental modifications in rodents: prenatal stress, asphyxia, caesarean, variations of maternal care, enriched environment, early weaning. This approach allows behavioral analysis of the adult phenotype evoked by ELS and analyses at epigenetic and expression level. Rodent studies allow generating a detailed picture on point of time and type of stressor to impact on the methylome. The animal studies allow analysis of tissue-, stressor-, time-specific epigenetic effects.


cellular and genetic approaches, Molecular, Animal models, Behavioural, Depression and bipolar disorders, epigenetic, early life adversity, translational

Call topic

Mental Disorders

Proposed runtime

2011 - 2014

Project team

Michael Deuschle (Coordinator)
Germany (BMBF)
Peter Gass
Germany (BMBF)
Moshe Szyf
Canada (FRSQ)
Giorgio Racagni
Italy (MOH)