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Pregnancy associated epigenetic markers of inflammation predict depression and anxiety symptoms in response to discrimination

Sluiter, Femke and Incollingo Rodriguez, Angela C and Nephew, Benjamin C and Cali, Ryan and Murgatroyd, Chris and Santos, Hudson P (2020) Pregnancy associated epigenetic markers of inflammation predict depression and anxiety symptoms in response to discrimination. Neurobiology of Stress. p. 100273. ISSN 2352-2895

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Abstract

Latina mothers, who have one of the highest fertility rates among ethnic groups in the United States (US), often experience discrimination. Psychosocial influences during pregnancy, such as stress, promotes inflammation. However, the role of epigenetic markers of inflammation as a mediator between, and predictor of, maternal discrimination stress and neuropsychiatric outcomes has not been extensively studied. The current study investigates the role of DNA methylation at FOXP3 Treg-cell-specific demethylated region (TSDR), as a marker of regulatory T (Treg) cells that are important negative regulators of inflammation, and at the promoter of tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), an important pro-inflammatory cytokine in associations between discrimination stress during pregnancy and depression and anxiety symptomology. A sample of 148 Latina women residing in the US (mean age 27.6 years) were assessed prenatally at 24–32 weeks’ gestation and 4–6 weeks postnatally for perceived discrimination exposure (Everyday Discrimination Scale, EDS), emotional distress (depression, anxiety, perinatal-specific depression), acculturation, and acculturative stress. DNA methylation levels at the FOXP3 and TNFα promoter regions from blood samples collected at the prenatal stage were assessed by bisulphite pyrosequencing. Regression analyses revealed that prenatal EDS associated with postnatal emotional distress, depression and anxiety symptoms only in those individuals with higher than mean levels of FOXP3 TSDR and TNFα promoter methylation; no such significant associations were found in those with lower than mean levels of methylation for either. We further found that these relationships were mediated by TNFα only in those with high FOXP3 TSDR methylation, implying that immunosuppression via TNFα promoter methylation buffers the impact of discrimination stress on postpartum symptomatology. These results indicate that epigenetic markers of immunosuppression and inflammation play an important role in resilience or sensitivity, respectively, to prenatal stress.

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