The early-life social environment and DNA methylation
Article first published online: 13 FEB 2012
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons A/S
Volume 81, Issue 4, pages 341–349, April 2012
How to Cite
Szyf, M. (2012), The early-life social environment and DNA methylation. Clinical Genetics, 81: 341–349. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-0004.2012.01843.x
- Issue published online: 14 MAR 2012
- Article first published online: 13 FEB 2012
- Accepted manuscript online: 11 JAN 2012 07:31AM EST
- Received 17 November 2011, revised and accepted for publication 9 January 2012
- DNA methylation;
- early life;
- social environment
Szyf M. The early-life social environment and DNA methylation.
DNA methylation is a chemical modification of DNA that confers, upon identical sequences, different identities that are reflected in different gene expression programming. DNA methylation has a well-established role in cellular differentiation by providing a mechanism for one genome to express multiple phenotypes in a multicellular organism. Recent data point however to the possibility that in addition to the innate process of cellular differentiation, DNA methylation can serve as a genome adaptation mechanism, adapting genome function to changing environmental contexts including social environments. A critical time point for this process is early life when cues from the social and physical environments define lifelong trajectories of physical and mental health. DNA methylation and additional epigenetic modifications could therefore serve as molecular links between ‘nurture’ and ‘nature’. Data that are consistent with this new role for DNA methylation as a mechanism for conferring an ‘environment’ specific identity to DNA will be discussed.