Using Openly Accessible Resources to Strengthen Causal Inference in Epigenetic Epidemiology of Neurodevelopment and Mental Health

Esther Walton, Caroline L Relton, Doretta Caramaschi

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The recent focus on the role of epigenetic mechanisms in mental health has led to several studies examining the association of epigenetic processes with psychiatric conditions and neurodevelopmental traits. Some studies suggest that epigenetic changes might be causal in the development of the psychiatric condition under investigation. However, other scenarios are possible, e.g., statistical confounding or reverse causation, making it particularly challenging to derive conclusions on causality. In the present review, we examine the evidence from human population studies for a possible role of epigenetic mechanisms in neurodevelopment and mental health and discuss methodological approaches on how to strengthen causal inference, including the need for replication, (quasi-)experimental approaches and Mendelian randomization. We signpost openly accessible resources (e.g., "MR-Base" "EWAS catalog" as well as tissue-specific methylation and gene expression databases) to aid the application of these approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Article number193
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


  • Causal inference
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetics
  • Mendelian randomization
  • Mental health
  • Neurodevelopment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)

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