Epigenetic Differences in Inflammation Genes of Monozygotic Twins are related to Parental Emotional Availability and Health

Abstract

The inflammatory response is an immune defense engaged immediately after injury or infection. Chronic inflammation can be deleterious for various health outcomes and is characterized by high levels of pro-inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein (CRP), cytokines interleukin 6 (IL-6), and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α). A large body of research demonstrates these inflammatory markers are responsive to stress and quality of social relationships throughout the lifespan. For example, the quality of the early parental bond predicts various health outcomes and may be driven by changes in immune function. Epigenetic processes, such as DNA methylation, may be one mechanism by which early social experiences shape immune functioning. The present study used a monozygotic twin difference design to assess if primary caregiver emotional availability at 1 year and 2.5 years predicted immune gene methylation at 8 years of age. Further, we assessed if inflammation gene methylation was related to general health problems (e.g. infections, allergies, etc.). We found that parental emotional availability at 1 year, but not 2.5 years, was related to methylation of various immune genes in monozygotic twins. Furthermore, twin pairs discordant in health problems have more difference in immune gene methylation compared to twin pairs concordant for health problems, suggesting that methylation of immune genes may have functional consequences for general health. These results suggest that the emotional component of attachment quality during infancy contributes to immune epigenetic profiles in childhood, which may influence general health.

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