Gestational epigenetic age and ADHD symptoms in childhood: a prospective, multi-cohort study

Kristina Salontaji, Kristine L. Haftorn, Faye Sanders, Christian M. Page, Esther Walton, Janine F. Felix, Mona Bekkhus, Jon Bohlin, Henning Tiemeier, Charlotte A.M. Cecil

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


Epigenetic age acceleration (EAA), defined as the difference between chronological age and epigenetically predicted age, was calculated from multiple gestational epigenetic clocks (Bohlin, EPIC overlap, and Knight) using DNA methylation levels from cord blood in three large population-based birth cohorts: the Generation R Study (The Netherlands), the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (United Kingdom), and the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort Study (Norway). We hypothesized that a lower EAA associates prospectively with increased ADHD symptoms. We tested our hypotheses in these three cohorts and meta-analyzed the results (n = 3383). We replicated previous research on the association between gestational age (GA) and ADHD. Both clinically measured gestational age as well as epigenetic age measures at birth were negatively associated with ADHD symptoms at ages 5–7 years (clinical GA: β = −0.04, p < 0.001, Bohlin: β = −0.05, p = 0.01; EPIC overlap: β = −0.05, p = 0.01; Knight: β = −0.01, p = 0.26). Raw EAA (difference between clinical and epigenetically estimated gestational age) was positively associated with ADHD in our main model, whereas residual EAA (raw EAA corrected for clinical gestational age) was not associated with ADHD symptoms across cohorts. Overall, findings support a link between lower gestational age (either measured clinically or using epigenetic-derived estimates) and ADHD symptoms. Epigenetic age acceleration does not, however, add unique information about ADHD risk independent of clinically estimated gestational age at birth.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Early online date2 Apr 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Apr 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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