Annual Research Review: DNA methylation as a mediator in the association between risk exposure and child and adolescent psychopathology

Edward D. Barker, Esther Walton, Charlotte A.M. Cecil

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82 Citations (SciVal)


Background: DNA methylation (DNAm) is a potential mechanism for propagating the effects of environmental exposures on child and adolescent mental health. In recent years, this field has experienced steady growth. Methods: We provide a strategic review of the current child and adolescent literature to evaluate evidence for a mediating role of DNAm in the link between environmental risks and psychopathological outcomes, with a focus on internalising and externalising difficulties. Results: Based on the studies presented, we conclude that there is preliminary evidence to support that (a) environmental factors, such as diet, neurotoxic exposures and stress, influence offspring DNAm, and that (b) variability in DNAm, in turn, is associated with child and adolescent psychopathology. Overall, very few studies have examined DNAm in relation to both exposures and outcomes, and almost all analyses have been correlational in nature. Conclusions: DNAm holds potential as a biomarker indexing both environmental risk exposure and vulnerability for child psychopathology. However, the extent to which it may represent a causal mediator is not clear. In future, collection of prospective risk exposure, DNAm and outcomes – as well as functional characterisation of epigenetic findings – will assist in determining the role of DNAm in the link between risk exposure and psychopathology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-322
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number4
Early online date24 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

© 2017 Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.


  • adolescence
  • childhood
  • developmental psychopathology
  • DNA methylation
  • environmental risk
  • epigenetics
  • externalising problems
  • internalising problems


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