By Elizabeth Newcomb, University of Southern California, November 9, 2020
A new three-nation project will examine how social, economic, psychological, environmental and behavioral circumstances in childhood influence gene expression and affect health and aging later in life.
The cooperation brings together large longitudinal studies in the US, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This unique international collaboration will examine social, economic, health and epigenetic data from the three national studies to find out how adversity, trauma and other factors impact the epigenome - how genes turn "on" or "off" - and how these changes affect health and aging, said University Professor Eileen Crimmins, holder of the AARP Chair in Gerontology at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. Previous epigenetics research indicates that stressors, such as hunger, neglect and violence, in childhood can result in epigenome changes that persist for decades.
"This project will be unique in evaluating how a variety of social circumstances, including low levels of education and income, minority group membership, adverse childhood experiences, adult traumas, risky health behaviors, psychological states, and chronic stress, are associated with epigenetic markers in three different countries, with somewhat different historical, social and behavioral characteristics which are operating in different health policy regimes," Crimmins explained.