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Keywords:

  • adolescent obesity;
  • behaviour;
  • early life stress;
  • epigenetics;
  • psychopathology

Abstract

To consider the evidence that human and animal behaviours are epigenetically programmed by lifetime experiences. Extensive PubMed searches were carried out to gain a broad view of the topic, in particular from the perspective of human psychopathologies such as mood and anxiety disorders. The selected literature cited is complemented by previously unpublished data from the authors' laboratories. Evidence that physiological and behavioural functions are particularly sensitive to the programming effects of environmental factors such as stress and nutrition during early life, and perhaps at later stages of life, is reviewed and extended. Definition of stimulus- and function-specific critical periods of programmability together with deeper understanding of the molecular basis of epigenetic regulation will deliver greater appreciation of the full potential of the brain's plasticity while providing evidence-based social, psychological and pharmacological interventions to promote lifetime well-being.