Adverse Childhood Experiences, Epigenetic Measures, and Obesity in Youth

Joan Kaufman, Janitza L. Montalvo-Ortiz, Hannah Holbrook, Kerry O'Loughlin, Catherine Orr, Catherine Kearney, Bao Zhu Yang, Tao Wang, Hongyu Zhao, Robert Althoff, Hugh Garavan, Joel Gelernter, James Hudziak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To determine if measures of adverse childhood experiences and DNA methylation relate to indices of obesity in youth. Study design: Participants were derived from a cohort of 321 8 to 15-year-old children recruited for an investigation examining risk and resilience and psychiatric outcomes in maltreated children. Assessments of obesity were collected as an add-on for a subset of 234 participants (56% female; 52% maltreated). Illumina arrays were used to examine whole genome epigenetic predictors of obesity in saliva DNA. For analytic purposes, the cohort analyzed in the first batch comprised the discovery sample (n = 160), and the cohort analyzed in the second batch the replication sample (n = 74). Results: After controlling for race, sex, age, cell heterogeneity, 3 principal components, and whole genome testing, 10 methylation sites were found to interact with adverse childhood experiences to predict cross-sectional measures of body mass index, and an additional 6 sites were found to exert a main effect in predicting body mass index (P < 5.0 × 10 −7 , all comparisons). Eight of the methylation sites were in genes previously associated with obesity risk (eg, PCK2, CxCl10, BCAT1, HID1, PRDM16, MADD, PXDN, GALE), with several of the findings from the discovery data set replicated in the second cohort. Conclusions: This study lays the groundwork for future longitudinal studies to elucidate these mechanisms further and identify novel interventions to alleviate the health burdens associated with early adversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)150-156.e3
JournalJournal of Pediatrics
StatePublished - Nov 2018


  • ACE
  • DNA methylation
  • child abuse
  • obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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