Epigenetic signatures of attachment insecurity and childhood adversity provide evidence for role transition in the pathogenesis of perinatal depression
Roth, Marissa C.
Humphreys, Kathryn L.
Early life adversity and insecure attachment style are known risk factors for perinatal depression. The biological pathways linking these experiences, however, have not yet been elucidated. We hypothesized that overlap in patterns of DNA methylation in association with each of these phenomena could identify genes and pathways of importance. Specifically, we wished to distinguish between allostatic-load and role-transition hypotheses of perinatal depression. We conducted a large-scale analysis of methylation patterns across 5 x 10(6) individual CG dinucleotides in 54 women participating in a longitudinal prospective study of perinatal depression, using clustering-based criteria for significance to control for multiple comparisons. We identified 1580 regions in which methylation density was associated with childhood adversity, 3 in which methylation density was associated with insecure attachment style, and 6 in which methylation density was associated with perinatal depression. Shorter telomeres were observed in association with childhood trauma but not with perinatal depression or attachment insecurity. A detailed analysis of methylation density in the oxytocin receptor gene revealed similar patterns of DNA methylation in association with perinatal depression and with insecure attachment style, while childhood trauma was associated with a distinct methylation pattern in this gene. Clinically, attachment style was strongly associated with depression only in pregnancy and the early postpartum, whereas the association of childhood adversity with depression was time-invariant. We concluded that the broad DNA methylation signature and reduced telomere length associated with childhood adversity could indicate increased allostatic load across multiple body systems, whereas perinatal depression and attachment insecurity may be narrower phenotypes with more limited DNA methylation signatures outside the CNS, and no apparent association with telomere length or, by extension, allostatic load. In contrast, the finding of matching DNA methylation patterns within the oxytocin receptor gene for perinatal depression and attachment insecurity is consistent with the theory that the perinatal period is a time of activation of existing attachment schemas for the purpose of structuring the mother-child relationship, and that such activation may occur in part through specific patterns of methylation of the oxytocin receptor gene.