Infant DNA methylation and caregiving

This 2019 US human study attempted to replicate findings of animal studies that associated caregiver behavior with infant DNA methylation of the glucocorticoid receptor gene:

“Greater levels of maternal responsiveness and appropriate touch were related to less DNA methylation of specific regions in NR3c1 exon 1F, but only for females. There was no association with maternal responsiveness and appropriate touch or DNA methylation of NR3c1 exon 1F on prestress cortisol or cortisol reactivity. Our results are discussed in relation to programming models that implicate maternal care as an important factor in programing infant stress reactivity.”

The study had many undisclosed and a few disclosed limitations, one of which was:

“Our free-play session, while consistent with the length of free-play sessions in other studies, was short (5 min). It is unclear whether a longer length of time would have yielded significant different maternal responsiveness and appropriate touch data.”

The final sentence showed the study’s purpose was other than discovering factual evidence:

“Following replication of this work, it could ultimately be used in conjunction with early intervention, or home-visiting programs, to measure the strength of the intervention effect at the epigenetic level.” “DNA methylation of NR3c1 in infancy: Associations between maternal caregiving and infant sex” (not freely available)


What drives cellular aging?

This 2019 US/UK human cell study by the founder of the epigenetic clock method investigated epigenetic aging:

“It is widely assumed that extension of lifespan is a result of retardation of ageing. While there is no counter-evidence to challenge this highly intuitive association, supporting empirical evidence to confirm it is not easy to acquire.

The scarcity of empirical evidence is due in part to the lack of a good measure of age that is not based on time. In this regard, the relatively recent development of epigenetic clocks is of great interest.

At the cellular level more is known, but from the perspective of what epigenetic ageing is not, rather than what it is. While we still do not know what cellular feature is associated with epigenetic ageing, we can now remove:

  • somatic cell differentiation

from the list of possibilities and place it with

  • cellular senescence,
  • proliferation and
  • telomere length maintenance,

which represent cellular features that are all not linked to epigenetic ageing.”

The study used several agents, including rapamycin, to investigate the hypotheses. Rapamycin isn’t a panacea, but:

“The ability of rapamycin to suppress the progression of epigenetic ageing is very encouraging for many reasons not least because it provides a valuable point-of-entry into molecular pathways that are potentially associated with it. Evidently, the target of rapamycin, the mTOR complex is of particular interest.

The convergence of the GWAS observation with the experimental system described here is a testament of the strength of the skin & blood clock in uncovering biological features that are consistent between the human level and cellular level. It lends weight to the emerging view that the mTOR pathway may be the underlying mechanism that supports epigenetic ageing.”

The limitation section ended with:

“It is important to note that it is inadvisable (actively discouraged) to directly extrapolate the studies here, especially in terms of the magnitude of age suppression, to potential effects of rapamycin on humans.” “Rapamycin retards epigenetic ageing of keratinocytes independently of its effects on replicative senescence, proliferation and differentiation”