The growing field of epigenetics and human behavior affords an unprecedented opportunity to discover molecular underpinnings of mental health disorders and pave the way for the development of preventive intervention programs. Maternal depression during pregnancy is a serious public health issue and leads to a fourfold increase in the likelihood that the child will develop depression. We describe how mood disorders, particularly depression, may be shaped by early life stress, programming, and epigenetic processes and pathways showing how these processes could lead to depression in childhood. Implications of this approach to the study of mental health disorders for preventive interventions are discussed.
maternal depression; childhood depression; programming; epigenetics; stress; developmental origins
In previous work we (Fisher et al., 2011) examined the emergence of neurobehavioral disinhibition (ND) in adolescents with prenatal substance exposure. We computed ND factor scores at three age points (8/9, 11 and 13/14 years) and found that both prenatal substance exposure and early adversity predicted ND. The purpose of the current study was to determine the association between these ND scores and initiation of substance use between ages 8–16 in this cohort as early initiation of substance use has been related to later substance use disorders. Our hypothesis was that prenatal cocaine exposure predisposes the child to ND, which, in turn, is associated with initiation of substance use by age 16.
We studied 386 cocaine exposed and 517 unexposed children followed since birth in a longitudinal study. Five dichotomous variables were computed based on the subject’s report of substance use: alcohol only; tobacco only; marijuana only; illicit substances and any substance.
Cox proportional hazard regression showed that the 8/9 year ND score was related to initiation of alcohol, tobacco, illicit and any substance use but not marijuana use. The trajectory of ND across the three age periods was related to substance use initiation in all five substance use categories. Prenatal cocaine exposure, although initially related to tobacco, marijuana and illicit substance initiation, was no longer significant with ND scores in the models.
Prenatal drug exposure appears to be a risk pathway to ND, which by 8/9 years portends substance use initiation.
neurodevelopmental disinhibition; substance use initiation; prenatal cocaine exposure
Sponsored by the New York Academy of Sciences, the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and the University of Massachusetts Boston, “Behavioral Epigenetics” was held on October 29–30, 2010 at the University of Massachusetts Boston Campus Center, Boston, Massachusetts. This meeting featured speakers and panel discussions exploring the emerging field of behavioral epigenetics, from basic biochemical and cellular mechanisms to the epigenetic modulation of normative development, developmental disorders, and psychopathology. This report provides an overview of the research presented by leading scientists and lively discussion about the future of investigation at the behavioral epigenetic level.
behavior; epigenetics; chromosome; gene regulation; transcription; methylation
The trend toward single-room neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) is increasing; however scientific evidence is, at this point, mostly anecdotal. This is a critical time to assess the impact of the single-room NICU on improving medical and neurobehavioral outcomes of the preterm infant. We have developed a theoretical model that may be useful in studying how the change from an open-bay NICU to a single-room NICU could affect infant medical and neurobehavioral outcome. The model identifies mediating factors that are likely to accompany the change to a single-room NICU. These mediating factors include family centered care, developmental care, parenting and family factors, staff behavior and attitudes, and medical practices. Medical outcomes that plan to be measured are sepsis, length of stay, gestational age at discharge, weight gain, illness severity, gestational age at enteral feeding, and necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). Neurobehavioral outcomes include the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale (NNNS) scores, sleep state organization and sleep physiology, infant mother feeding interaction scores, and pain scores. Preliminary findings on the sample of 150 patients in the open-bay NICU showed a “baseline” of effects of family centered care, developmental care, parent satisfaction, maternal depression, and parenting stress on the neurobehavioral outcomes of the newborn. The single-room NICU has the potential to improve the neurobehavioral status of the infant at discharge. Neurobehavioral assessment can assist with early detection and therefore preventative intervention to maximize developmental outcome. We also present an epigenetic model of the potential effects of maternal care on improving infant neurobehavioral status.
preterm; neurobehavior; NNNS; NICU; very-low-birthweight infants; single-room NICU design; epigenetics
In infants, eye constriction—the Duchenne marker—and mouth opening appear to index the intensity of both positive and negative facial expressions. We combined eye constriction and mouth opening that co-occurred with smiles and cry-faces (respectively, the prototypic expressions of infant joy and distress) to measure emotional expression intensity. Expression intensity and heart rate were measured throughout the Face-to-Face/Still Face (FFSF) in a sample of infants with prenatal cocaine exposure who were at risk for developmental difficulties. Smiles declined and cry-faces increased in the still-face episode, but the distribution of eye constriction and mouth opening in smiles and cry-faces did not differ across episodes of the FFSF. As time elapsed in the still face episode potential indices of intensity increased, cry-faces were more likely to be accompanied by eye constriction and mouth opening. During cry-faces there were also moderately stable individual differences in the quantity of eye constriction and mouth opening. Infant heart rate was higher during cry-faces and lower during smiles, but did not vary with intensity of expression or by episode. In sum, infants express more intense negative affect as the still-face progresses, but do not show clear differences in expressive intensity between episodes of the FFSF.
Facial Expression; Affect; Heart Rate; Prenatal Cocaine Exposure; Still-Face; Facial Action Coding System
Exposure to maternal mood disorder in utero may program infant neurobehavior via DNA methylation of the glucocorticoid receptor (NR3C1) and 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (11β-HSD-2), two placental genes that have been implicated in perturbations of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical (HPA) axis. We tested the relations among prenatal exposure to maternal depression or anxiety, methylation of exon 1F of NR3C1 and 11β-HSD-2, and newborn neurobehavior. Controlling for relevant covariates, infants whose mothers reported depression during pregnancy and showed greater methylation of placental NR3C1 CpG2 had poorer self-regulation, more hypotonia, and more lethargy than infants whose mothers did not report depression. On the other hand, infants whose mothers reported anxiety during pregnancy and showed greater methylation of placental 11β-HSD-2 CpG4 were more hypotonic compared with infants of mothers who did not report anxiety during pregnancy. Our results support the fetal programming hypothesis and suggest that fetal adjustments to cues from the intrauterine environment, in this case an environment that could be characterized by increased exposure to maternal cortisol, may lead to poor neurodevelopmental outcomes.
DNA methylation; maternal depression; maternal anxiety; newborn neurobehavior
Determine the association between prenatal cocaine exposure and postnatal environmental adversity on salivary cortisol stress reactivity in school aged children.
Subjects included 743 11 year old children (n=320 cocaine exposed; 423 comparison) followed since birth in a longitudinal prospective multisite study. Saliva samples were collected to measure cortisol at baseline and after a standardized procedure to induce psychological stress. Children were divided into those who showed an increase in cortisol from baseline to post stress and those who showed a decrease or blunted cortisol response. Covariates measured included site, birthweight, maternal pre and postnatal use of alcohol, tobacco or marijuana, social class, changes in caretakers, maternal depression and psychological symptoms, domestic and community violence, child abuse and quality of the home.
With adjustment for confounding variables, cortisol reactivity to stress was more likely to be blunted in children with prenatal cocaine exposure. Cocaine exposed children exposed to domestic violence showed the strongest effects.
The combination of prenatal cocaine exposure and an adverse postnatal environment could down regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) resulting in the blunted cortisol response to stress possibly increasing risk for later psychopathology and adult disease.
prenatal cocaine exposure; cortisol reactivity; environmental adversity
We sought to determine the association between small for gestational age (SGA), birth weight, and childhood obesity within preterm polysubstance exposed children. We sampled 312 preterm children with 11-year body mass index (BMI; age- and sex-specific) data from the Maternal Lifestyle Study (51% girls, 21.5% SGA, 46% prenatal cocaine, and 55% tobacco exposed). Multinomial regression analyzed the association between 11-year obesity (OBE) and overweight (OW) and SGA, birth weight, first-year growth velocity, diet, and physical activity variables. Overall, 24% were OBE (BMI for age ≥95th percentile) and 16.7% were OW (BMI ≥85th and <95th percentiles). In adjusted analyses, SGA was associated with OW (odds ratio [OR]=3.4, confidence interval [CI] 1.5 to 7.5). Higher birth weight was associated with OBE (OR = 1.8, CI 1.3 to 2.4) and OW (OR=1.4, CI 1.1 to 2.0). Growth velocity was associated with OBE (OR=2.7, CI 1.8 to 4.0) and OW (OR=1.6, CI 1.1 to 2.4). Low exercise was associated with OBE (OR=2.1, CI 1.0 to 4.4) and OW (OR=2.1, CI 1.0 to 4.5). There was no effect of substance exposure on obesity outcomes. Many (41%) of these high-risk preterm 11-year-olds were obese/overweight. Multiple growth-related processes may be involved in obesity risk for preterm children, including fetal programming as indicated by the SGA effect.
Childhood obesity; premature birth; infant SGA; birth weight; exercise; prenatal drug exposure
To test a developmental model of neurobehavioral dysregulation relating prenatal substance exposure to behavior problems at age 7.
PATIENTS AND METHODS
The sample included 360 cocaine-exposed and 480 unexposed children from lower to lower middle class families of which 78% were African American. Structural equation modeling (SEM) was used to test models whereby prenatal exposure to cocaine and other substances would result in neurobehavioral dysregulation in infancy, which would predict externalizing and internalizing behavior problems in early childhood. SEM models were developed for individual and combined parent and teacher report for externalizing, internalizing, and total problem scores on the Child Behavior Checklist.
The Goodness of Fit Statistics indicated that all of the models met criteria for adequate fit with 7 of the 9 models explaining 18 to 60% of the variance in behavior problems at age 7. The paths in the models indicate that there are direct effects of prenatal substance exposure on 7-year behavior problems as well as indirect effects, including neurobehavioral dysregulation.
Prenatal substance exposure affects behavior problems at age 7 through two mechanisms. The direct pathway is consistent with a teratogenic effect. Indirect pathways suggest cascading effects where prenatal substance exposure results in neurobehavioral dysregulation manifesting as deviations in later behavioral expression. Developmental models provide an understanding of pathways that describe how prenatal substance exposure affects child outcome and have significant implications for early identification and prevention.
Prenatal substance exposure; cocaine; neurobehavioral dysregulation; behavior problems
To examine the autonomic nervous system and neurobehavioral response to a sustained visual attention challenge among 1-month old infants with prenatal substance exposure.
We measured heart rate (HR), respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), and neurobehavior during sustained visual orientation tasks included in the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale (NNNS) in 1,129, 1-month infants with prenatal substance exposure. Four groups were compared: infants with prenatal cocaine and opiate exposure, infants with cocaine exposure, infants with opiate exposure, and infants with exposure to other substances (i.e. alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco).
Infants with prenatal cocaine and opiate exposure had the highest HRs and lowest levels of RSA during a sustained visual attention procedure compared with the other three groups. Infants with prenatal cocaine and opiate exposure had poorer quality of movement and more hypertonicity during the NNNS exam compared with the other three exposure groups. Infants with prenatal cocaine and opiate exposure had more nonoptimal reflexes and stress/abstinence signs compared with infants with prenatal cocaine exposure only and infants with prenatal exposure to alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana.
Problems with arousal regulation were identified among infants with prenatal substance exposure. Autonomic dysregulation has been implicated as a mechanism by which these difficulties occur. Our results suggest that infants with both prenatal cocaine and opiate exposure have the greatest autonomic response to the challenge of a sustained visual attention task, which may place these infants at risk for developing problems associated with physiological and behavioral regulation, a necessary prerequisite for early learning.
in utero drug exposure; physiology; neurobehavioral
cocaine; methamphetamine; SSRI; maternal depression; fetal behavior
Methamphetamine use is a growing problem among pregnant women in the United States. Many negative consequences of methamphetamine use have been documented for the users, but little research has examined the long-term association between prenatal methamphetamine exposure (PME) and childhood outcomes. The current study examined the extent to which PME was predictive of childhood neurobehavioral disinhibition (ND), as well as the extent to which early adversity mediated this relationship. A sample of 320 mother–infant dyads (162 PME) was followed from birth through 6.5 years of age. ND was conceptualized as a two factor model consisting of deficits in (a) behavioral and emotional control, and (b) executive function. PME was associated with behavioral and emotional control at 5 years, which was associated with executive function deficits at 6.5 years. Early adversity (birth through year 3) significantly mediated the relationship between PME and ND. Associations with previous research and implications for prevention are discussed.
methamphetamine; prenatal; adversity; disinhibition
High-risk environments characterized by familial substance use, poverty, inadequate parental monitoring, and violence exposure are associated with an increased propensity for adolescents to engage in risk-taking behaviors (e.g., substance use, sexual behavior, and delinquency). However, additional factors such as drug exposure in utero and deficits in inhibitory control among drug-exposed youth may further influence the likelihood that adolescents in high-risk environments will engage in risk-taking behavior. This study examined the influence of prenatal substance exposure, inhibitory control, and sociodemographic/environmental risk factors on risk-taking behaviors in a large cohort of adolescents with and without prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE).
Risk-taking behavior (delinquency, substance use, and sexual activity) was assessed in 963 adolescents (433 cocaine-exposed, 530 nonexposed) at 15 years of age.
PCE predicted later arrests and early onset of sexual behavior in controlled analyses. Associations were partially mediated, however, by adolescent inhibitory control problems. PCE was not associated with substance use at this age. In addition, male gender, low parental involvement, and violence exposure were associated with greater odds of engaging in risk-taking behavior across the observed domains.
Study findings substantiate concern regarding the association between prenatal substance exposure and related risk factors and the long-term outcomes of exposed youth. Access to the appropriate social, educational, and medical services are essential in preventing and intervening with risk-taking behaviors and the potential consequences (e.g., adverse health outcomes, incarceration), especially among high-risk adolescent youth and their families.
prenatal drug exposure; cocaine; adolescence; risk-taking behavior
Adverse maternal environments can lead to increased fetal exposure to maternal cortisol, which can cause infant neurobehavioral deficits. The placenta regulates fetal cortisol exposure and response, and placental DNA methylation can influence this function. FK506 binding protein (FKBP5) is a negative regulator of cortisol response, FKBP5 methylation has been linked to brain morphology and mental disorder risk, and genetic variation of FKBP5 was associated with post-traumatic stress disorder in adults. We hypothesized that placental FKBP5 methylation and genetic variation contribute to gene expression control, and are associated with infant neurodevelopmental outcomes assessed using the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Network Neurobehavioral Scales (NNNS). In 509 infants enrolled in the Rhode Island Child Health Study, placental FKBP5 methylation was measured at intron 7 using quantitative bisulfite pyrosequencing. Placental FKBP5 mRNA was measured in a subset of 61 infants by quantitative PCR, and the SNP rs1360780 was genotyped using a quantitative allelic discrimination assay. Relationships between methylation, expression and NNNS scores were examined using linear models adjusted for confounding variables, then logistic models were created to determine the influence of methylation on membership in high risk groups of infants. FKBP5 methylation was negatively associated with expression (P = 0.08, r = −0.22); infants with the TT genotype had higher expression than individuals with CC and CT genotypes (P = 0.06), and those with CC genotype displayed a negative relationship between methylation and expression (P = 0.06, r = −0.43). Infants in the highest quartile of FKBP5 methylation had increased risk of NNNS high arousal compared to infants in the lowest quartile (OR 2.22, CI 1.07–4.61). TT genotype infants had increased odds of high NNNS stress abstinence (OR 1.98, CI 0.92–4.26). Placental FKBP5 methylation reduces expression in a genotype specific fashion, and genetic variation supersedes this effect. These genetic and epigenetic differences in expression may alter the placenta’s ability to modulate cortisol response and exposure, leading to altered neurobehavioral outcomes.
A review of the research on the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale (NNNS) is presented. The NNNS has good psychometric properties and reliability. Standardized norms are available for it. It was found to be sensitive to a wide variety of medical, exposure and demographic variables and has robust predictive validity. It will be useful for nurses for detecting neurobehavioral problems and management of the young infant.
Newborn; NNNS; NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale; neurobehavior; prenatal; intrapartum and neonatal risk factors; predictive validity
The serotonin receptor, HTR2A, exhibits placental expression and function and can be controlled through DNA methylation. The relationship between methylation of HTR2A in the placenta and neurodevelopmental outcomes, evaluated using the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scales (NNNS), was assessed in newborn infants (n = 444). HTR2A methylation was significantly higher in males and marginally higher in infants whose mothers reported tobacco use during pregnancy. Controlling for confounding variables, HTR2A methylation was negatively associated with infant quality of movement (p = 0.05) and positively associated with infant attention (p = 0.0001). These results suggest that methylation of the HTR2A gene can be biologically and environmentally modulated and is associated with key measures of neurodevelopment.
placenta; DNA methylation; HTR2A; serotonin; developmental origins of disease; neurodevelopment; epigenetic; behavior
To examine the independent contributions of prenatal methamphetamine exposure (PME) and prenatal tobacco exposure (PTE) on brain morphology among a sample of nonalcohol-exposed 3- to 5-year-old children followed prospectively since birth.
The sample included 20 children with PME (19 with PTE) and 15 comparison children (7 with PTE), matched on race, birth weight, maternal education and type of insurance. Subcortical and cortical volumes and cortical thickness measures were derived through an automated segmentation procedure from T1-weighted structural magnetic resonance images obtained on unsedated children. Attention was assessed using the computerized Conners’ Kiddie Continuous Performance Test Version 5 (K-CPT™ V.5). PME effects on subcortical and cortical brain volumes and cortical thickness were tested by general linear model with type III sum of squares, adjusting for PTE, prenatal marijuana exposure, age at time of scan, gender, handedness, pulse sequence and total intracranial volume (for volumetric outcomes). A similar analysis was done for PTE effects on subcortical and cortical brain volumes and thickness, adjusting for PME and the above covariates.
Children with PME had significantly reduced caudate nucleus volumes and cortical thickness increases in perisylvian and orbital-frontal cortices. In contrast, children with PTE showed cortical thinning in perisylvian and lateral occipital cortices and volumetric increases in frontal regions and decreases in anterior cingulate. PME was positively related and caudate volume was inversely related to K-CPT reaction time by inter-stimulus interval, a measure of the ability to adjust to changing task demands, suggesting that children with PME may have subtle attentional deficits mediated by caudate volume reductions.
Our results suggest that PME and PTE may have distinct differential cortical effects on the developing central nervous system. Additionally, PME may be associated with subtle deficits in attention mediated by caudate volume reductions.
Prenatal drug exposure; Neuroimaging; Cognitive development; Attention
We evaluated whether living arrangements of children with or without prenatal drug exposure would be associated with their behavior outcomes and adaptive functioning.
1388 children with or without prenatal cocaine or opiate exposure were enrolled in a longitudinal cohort study at one month of age, were seen at intervals, tracked over time for their living situation, and evaluated for behavior problems and adaptive functioning at three years of age. Child Behavior Check List and Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VABS) were administered. Using multiple regression models, we determined the factors that would predict behavior problems and adaptive functioning.
1,092 children were evaluated. Total and externalizing behavior problems T scores of children in relative care were lower (better) than those in parental; externalizing behavior scores were lower than those in non-relative care (p<0.05). Total behavior problem scores increased 2.3 and 1.3 points respectively with each move/year and each year of Child Protective Services’ involvement. Compared to children in non-relative care, those in parental or relative care had higher (better) scores in the VABS total composite (p<0.023), communication (p<0.045), and daily living (p<0.001). Each caretaker change was associated with a decrease of 2.65 and 2.19 points respectively in communication and daily living scores.
Children’s living arrangements were significantly associated with childhood behavior problems and adaptive functioning. The instability of living situation was also a significant predictor of these outcomes. While family preservation continues to be the goal of the child welfare system, expediting decision toward permanency remains paramount once children are placed in foster care.
Prenatal cocaine; prenatal opiate; out-of-home-care; child behavior
This study compared patterns of prenatal care among mothers who used methamphetamine (MA) during pregnancy and non-using mothers in the US and New Zealand (NZ), and evaluated associations among maternal drug use, child protective services (CPS) referral, and inadequate prenatal care in both countries. The sample consisted of 182 mothers in the MA-Exposed and 196 in the Comparison groups in the US, and 107 mothers in the MA-Exposed and 112 in the Comparison groups in NZ. Positive toxicology results and/or maternal report of MA use during pregnancy were used to identify MA use. Information about sociodemographics, prenatal care and prenatal substance use was collected by maternal interview. MA-use during pregnancy is associated with lower socio-economic status, single marital status, and CPS referral in both NZ and the US. Compared to their non-using counterparts, MA-using mothers in the US had significantly higher rates of inadequate prenatal care. No association was found between inadequate care and MA-use in NZ. In the US, inadequate prenatal care was associated with CPS referral, but not in NZ. Referral to CPS for drug use only composed 40 % of all referrals in the US, but only 15 % of referrals in NZ. In our study population, prenatal MA-use and CPS referral eclipse maternal sociodemographics in explanatory power for inadequate prenatal care. The predominant effect of CPS referral in the US is especially interesting, and should encourage further research on whether the US policy of mandatory reporting discourages drug-using mothers from seeking antenatal care.
Methamphetamine; Adequate prenatal care; New Zealand; Kessner Index; Child protective services
A growing body of research suggests that the intrauterine environment influences fetal neurodevelopment by altering the functional placental epigenome. A number of miRNAs are expressed in the placenta, may be sensitive to dysregulation by environmental exposures, and are associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes. Our study aimed to identify relationships between placental miRNA expression and newborn neurobehavior.
We examined the association between the expression of miR-16, miR-21, miR-93, miR-135b, miR-146a, and miR-182 in total RNA from the placentas of 86 term infants as measured by quantitative real-time PCR and newborn neurobehavioral outcomes as assessed using the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scales (NNNS).
Bivariate analysis revealed that placental miR-16 expression is negatively associated with attention score (p=0.006), while expression of miR-146a and miR-182 are both positively associated with quality of movement score (p=0.016 and p=0.016, respectively). Controlling for potential confounders, high miR-16 expression is significantly associated with reduced attention score (p=0.04), and high miR-146a expression and high miR-182 expression are significantly associated with increased quality of movement score (p=0.04 and p=0.01, respectively).
These results suggest that placental miRNA expression is associated with early neurobehavioral outcomes and miRNAs in the placenta may contribute to the developmental origins of infant neurobehavior.
Methamphetamine (MA) abuse is a worldwide problem. Little is known about the co-morbidity of substance use disorders (SUD) and other psychiatric disorders of mothers who use MA prenatally. The Infant Development, Environment and Lifestyle (IDEAL) Study is a prospective, investigation of prenatal MA use and child outcome in the United States (US) and New Zealand (NZ). This study examined prenatal MA use and the co-morbidity of SUD and psychiatric disorders at 1-month postpartum.
Mothers who used MA (US = 127, NZ = 97) were compared to a matched comparison group (US = 193, NZ = 110). The Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory-3 was used to measure the probability of a SUD. The Brief Symptom Inventory was used to measure the likelihood of a positive diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder.
In US and NZ, the MA groups had lower SES, increased single parenting, delayed prenatal care, increased polydrug use. In the US only, MA mothers had lower income than the comparison group. MA users were 10 times more likely to have a SUD and twice as likely to meet Brief Symptom Inventory criteria for a diagnosable psychiatric disorder. In NZ, but not the US, MA users were five times more likely have co-morbidity of both. This disparity may be due to higher quantities of prenatal alcohol use associated with increased psychiatric symptoms.
These findings suggest that addressing both substance abuse and psychiatric disorders in mothers who use MA may be required to effectively treat maternal MA use.
Methamphetamine; Maternal Drug Use; Comorbidity; Substance Use Disorder; Psychiatric Disorder
We determined the role of risk and protective factors on the trajectories of behavior problems associated with high prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE)/polydrug exposure.
The Maternal Lifestyle Study enrolled 1388 children with or without PCE, assessed through age 15 years. Because most women using cocaine during pregnancy also used other substances, we analyzed for the effects of 4 categories of prenatal drug exposure: high PCE/other drugs (OD), some PCE/OD, OD/no PCE, and no PCE/no OD. Risks and protective factors at individual, family, and community levels that may be associated with behavior outcomes were entered stepwise into latent growth curve models, then replaced by cumulative risk and protective indexes, and finally by a combination of levels of risk and protective indexes. Main outcome measures were the trajectories of externalizing, internalizing, total behavior, and attention problems scores from the Child Behavior Checklist (parent).
A total of 1022 (73.6%) children had known outcomes. High PCE/OD significantly predicted externalizing, total, and attention problems when considering the balance between risk and protective indexes. Some PCE/OD predicted externalizing and attention problems. OD/no PCE also predicted behavior outcomes except for internalizing behavior. High level of protective factors was associated with declining trajectories of problem behavior scores over time, independent of drug exposure and risk index scores.
High PCE/OD is a significant risk for behavior problems in adolescence; protective factors may attenuate its detrimental effects. Clinical practice and public health policies should consider enhancing protective factors while minimizing risks to improve outcomes of drug-exposed children.
behavior problems; cumulative risks; prenatal cocaine exposure; protective factors
The present study was designed to examine parenting stress, maternal depressive symptoms, and perceived child behavior problems among mothers who used methamphetamine (MA) during pregnancy. Participants were a subsample (n = 212; 75 exposed, 137 comparison) of biological mothers who had continuous custody of their child from birth to 36 months. The subsample was drawn from a larger, ongoing longitudinal study on the effects of prenatal methamphetamine exposure (n = 412; 204 exposed, 208 comparison) (Arria et al in Matern Child Health J 10:293–302 2006). Mothers who used MA during pregnancy reported more parenting stress and more depressive symptoms than a matched comparison group. There were no differences between groups on perceived child behavior problems. In a hierarchical linear model, depressive symptoms, and perceived child behavior problems, but not MA exposure, were statistically significant predictors of parenting stress. Screening for potential parenting problems among mothers with a history of substance abuse is warranted. Parenting interventions targeting depressive symptoms, parenting stress, and child behavior problems are needed for this population.
Parenting stress; Prenatal drug exposure; Methamphetamine; Child behavior problems; Maternal depression
This study examined differences in acoustic characteristics of infant cries in a sample of babies at risk for autism and a low-risk comparison group. Cry samples derived from vocal recordings of 6-month-old infants at risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD; n = 21) and low-risk infants (n = 18) were subjected to acoustic analyses using analysis software designed for this purpose. Cries were categorized as either pain-related or non-pain-related based on videotape coding. At-risk infants produced pain-related cries with higher and more variable fundamental frequency (F0) than low-risk infants. At-risk infants later classified with ASD at 36 months had among the highest F0 values for both types of cries and produced cries that were more poorly phonated than those of nonautistic infants, reflecting cries that were less likely to be produced in a voiced mode. These results provide preliminary evidence that disruptions in cry acoustics may be part of an atypical vocal signature of autism in early life.
autism; infancy; cry; vocalizations; acoustic analysis
Prenatal socioeconomic adversity as an intrauterine exposure is associated with a range of perinatal outcomes although the explanatory mechanisms are not well understood. The development of the fetus can be shaped by the intrauterine environment through alterations in the function of the placenta. In the placenta, the HSD11B2 gene encodes the 11-beta hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase enzyme, which is responsible for the inactivation of maternal cortisol thereby protecting the developing fetus from this exposure. This gene is regulated by DNA methylation, and this methylation and the expression it controls has been shown to be susceptible to a variety of stressors from the maternal environment. The association of prenatal socioeconomic adversity and placental HSD11B2 methylation has not been examined. Following a developmental origins of disease framework, prenatal socioeconomic adversity may alter fetal response to the postnatal environment through functional epigenetic alterations in the placenta. Therefore, we hypothesized that prenatal socioeconomic adversity would be associated with less HSD11B2 methylation.
Methods and Findings
We examined the association between DNA methylation of the HSD11B2 promoter region in the placenta of 444 healthy term newborn infants and several markers of prenatal socioeconomic adversity: maternal education, poverty, dwelling crowding, tobacco use and cumulative risk. We also examined whether such associations were sex-specific. We found that infants whose mothers experienced the greatest levels of socioeconomic adversity during pregnancy had the lowest extent of placental HSD11B2 methylation, particularly for males. Associations were maintained for maternal education when adjusting for confounders (p<0.05).
Patterns of HSD11B2 methylation suggest that environmental cues transmitted from the mother during gestation may program the developing fetus’s response to an adverse postnatal environment, potentially via less exposure to cortisol during development. Less methylation of placental HSD11B2 may therefore be adaptive and promote the effective management of stress associated with social adversity in a postnatal environment.