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Associations between childhood family emotional health, fronto-limbic grey matter volume, and saliva 5mC in young adulthood

By JR Pfeiffer, Angela C Bustamante, Grace S Kim, Don Armstrong, Annchen R. Knodt, Karestan C. Koenen, Ahmad R Hariri, Monica Uddin

Posted 27 Oct 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.10.26.355347

Background Poor family emotional health (FEH) during childhood is prevalent and impactful, and likely confers similar neurodevelopmental risks as other adverse social environments. Pointed FEH study efforts are underdeveloped, and the mechanisms by which poor FEH are biologically embedded are unclear. The current exploratory study examined whether variability in DNA methylation (DNAm) and fronto-limbic grey matter volume may represent pathways through which FEH may become biologically embedded. Results Self-reported childhood FEH was nominally associated with right hemisphere hippocampus (b=10.4, p=0.005), left hemisphere amygdala (b=5.3, p=0.009), and right hemisphere amygdala (b=5.8, p=0.016) volumes. Childhood FEH was also nominally associated with 49 DNAm MEs (prange=3x10-6 to 0.047). After limiting analyses to probes correlated between saliva and brain, saliva-derived DNAm MEs partially mediated the association between FEH and right hippocampal volume (Burlywood ME indirect effect b=-111, p=0.014), and fully mediated the FEH and right amygdala volume relationship (Pink4 ME indirect effect b=-48, p=0.026). Modules were enriched with probes falling in genes with immune, CNS, and metabolic functions. Conclusions Findings extend work highlighting neurodevelopmental variability associated with adverse social environment exposure during childhood by specifically implicating poor FEH, while informing a mechanism of biological embedding. FEH-associated epigenetic signatures could function as proxies of altered fronto-limbic grey matter volume associated with poor childhood FEH and inform further investigation into primarily affected tissues such as endocrine, immune, and CNS cell types. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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