Development and the epigenome: the 'synapse' of gene-environment interplay

Dev Sci. 2015 Jan;18(1):1-23. doi: 10.1111/desc.12282.


This paper argues that there is a revolution afoot in the developmental science of gene-environment interplay. We summarize, for an audience of developmental researchers and clinicians, how epigenetic processes - chromatin structural modifications that regulate gene expression without changing DNA sequences - may offer a strong, parsimonious account for the convergence of genetic and contextual variation in the genesis of adaptive and maladaptive development. Epigenetic processes may play a plausible explanatory role in understanding: divergent trajectories and sexual dimorphisms in brain development; statistical interactions between genes and environments; the biological embedding of early psychosocial adversities; the linkages of such adversities to disorders of mental health; the striking individual variation in the strength of those linkages; the molecular origins of critical and sensitive periods; and the transgenerational inheritance of risk and protection. Taken together, these arguments converge in a claim that epigenetic processes constitute a promising and illuminating point of connection - a 'synapse' - between genes and environments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Developmental Biology*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Humans
  • Synapses / genetics
  • Synapses / physiology*