The contribution of nature versus nurture to the development of human behavior has been debated for centuries. Here, we offer a piece to this complex puzzle by identifying the human endogenous oxytocin system—known for its critical role in mammalian sociality—as a system sensitive to its early environment and subject to epigenetic change. Recent animal work suggests that early parental care is associated with changes in DNA methylation of conserved regulatory sites within the oxytocin receptor gene ( OXTR m). Through dyadic modeling of behavior and OXTR m status across the first year and a half of life, we translated these findings to 101 human mother-infant dyads. We show that OXTR m is dynamic in infancy and its change is predicted by maternal engagement and reflective of behavioral temperament. We provide evidence for an early window of environmental epigenetic regulation of the oxytocin system, facilitating the emergence of individual differences in human behavior.
Early-life social experience affects offspring DNA methylation and later life stress phenotype
Abstract Studies in rodents and captive primates suggest that the early-life social environment affects future phenotype, potentially through alterations to DNA methylation. Little is known of these associations in wild animals. In a wild population of spotted hyenas, we test the hypothesis that maternal care during the first year of life and social connectedness during two periods of early development leads to differences in DNA methylation and fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (fGCMs) later in life. Here we report that although maternal care and social connectedness during the den-dependent life stage are not associated with fGCMs, greater social connectedness during the subadult den-independent life stage is associated with lower adult fGCMs. Additionally, more maternal care and social connectedness after den independence correspond with higher global (%CCGG) DNA methylation. We also note differential DNA methylation near 5 genes involved in inflammation, immune response, and aging that may link maternal care with stress phenotype.
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- Nature Communications
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- National Science Foundation
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