Epigenetic dynamics in psychiatric disorders: environmental programming of neurodevelopmental processes

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2013 Jun;37(5):831-45. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.03.020. Epub 2013 Apr 6.


Epigenetic processes have profound influence on gene translation and play a key role in embryonic development and tissue type specification. Recent advances in our understanding of epigenetics have pointed out that epigenetic alterations also play an important role in neurodevelopment and may increase the risk to psychiatric disorders. In addition to genetic regulation of these processes, compelling evidence suggests that environmental conditions produce persistent changes in development through epigenetic mechanisms. Adverse environmental influences in early life such as maternal care, alcohol exposure and prenatal nutrition interact with epigenetic factors and may induce neurodevelopmental disturbances that are related to psychiatric disorders. This review outlines recent findings linking environmentally induced modifications of the epigenome to brain development and psychopathology. Better understanding of these modifications is relevant from the perspective that they may be reversible and, therefore, offer potential for novel treatment strategies. We present the current state of knowledge and show that integrative approaches are necessary to further understand the causal pathways between environmental influences, epigenetic modification, and neuronal function.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA Methylation
  • Environment*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / physiology*
  • Epigenomics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Mental Disorders / genetics*
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology