Current Studies

Pregnancy Outcomes & Child Development

Epigenetics of Preterm Birth: Preterm birth is a risk factor for child behavior problems and adult psychiatric disorders. We have shown that DNA methylation across the genome associates with gestational age in term deliveries and in spontaneous preterm birth. The goal of this project is to identify PTB-associated epigenetic differences in maternal and fetal samples and to evaluate whether those differences provide insight into the pathophysiology of PTB and development of psychopathology.

Epigenetic Biomarkers of Early Psychotropic Medication Exposure: The use of antipsychotics, antidepressants, and antiepileptics in both pre-pubertal and post-pubertal windows of brain development raise concerns about the functional effects of psychotropic exposure. We recently identified DNA methylation differences in umbilical cord blood of children exposed to prenatal antiepileptics but not antipsychotics or antidepressants. This ongoing project will evaluate the relationship between these epigenetic differences and social, affective and cognitive functioning in early childhood.

Genetic & Environmental Risk Factors that Contribute to Childhood Psychopathology: While human behavioral phenotypes are invariably heterogeneous, an emerging literature supports the supposition that both genetic heritability and environmental influences contribute to behavioral conditions and disorders commonly diagnosed in children. We are investigating the role of maternal mental illness and treatment as well as offspring genetic variation in predicting the offspring's vulnerability to childhood.

Adult Psychiatric Problems

Genetic and trauma-related risk factors for PTSD: Exposure to early life stress increases the risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but not everyone who experiences abuse or trauma develops it. This study explores the genetic and epigenetic correlates of post-traumatic stress disorder in inner-city residents exposed to traumatic events.

Evaluation of PTSD Biomarker Candidates in Fear-Conditioned Mice: We and others have identified DNA methylation differences in the peripheral blood of subjects with PTSD, but it is not clear how these differences relate to epigenetic patterns in the brain or to gene expression. This project evaluates mRNA expression and DNA methylation in the brain and peripheral tissue of fear-conditioned mice.

Genetic and Epigenetic Predictors of Inflammation and Fatigue in Breast Cancer Patients: A substantial proportion of people who undergo chemotherapy for breast cancer develop cancer-related fatigue, a long-lasting condition that correlates with inflammation. This project supports genetic, epigenetic and expression profiling of women undergoing breast cancer treatment to reveal genetic or epigenetic correlates of cancer-related fatigue.

We are very thankful to the following organizations for supporting this work:

narsad nimh
The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)