According to researchers at the University of Cincinnati, maternal stress during pregnancy has a harmful effect on the neurodevelopment of babies. A methyl group gets added to DNA, which is called DNA methylation. This likely plays a role in it. The findings could provide new insight into how the fetal environment potentially influences neurodevelopment, metabolism, and immunologic functions.
More than 5,500 people took part in this study, which broke down into 12 different groups. The research examines financial stress, conflict with a partner, conflict with a family member or friend, abuse, and death of a friend or relative. Plus, there is a cumulative score that combines all these categories.
They found that mothers experienced a great amount of stress during pregnancy. There was an association with DNA methylation in the umbilical cord blood, which is an epigenetic modification in the baby’s development. They found five specific locations of DNA methylation with three different maternal stressors. The three different maternal stressors were conflict with a friend or family, abuse, and death of a close friend or relative.
In AP Biology, we have learned that DNA methylation causes nucleosomes to pack tightly together, which prevents transcription factors from binding to the DNA. Gene expression is the process of turning on a gene to produce protein and RNA.
The researchers plan to further investigate and do some functional analyses to see how the genes work and how the DNA methylation affects their expression.