Associations among oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) DNA methylation in adulthood, exposure to early life adversity, and childhood trajectories of anxiousness

Sci Rep. 2017 Aug 7;7(1):7446. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-07950-x.


Recent models propose deoxyribonucleic acid methylation of key neuro-regulatory genes as a molecular mechanism underlying the increased risk of mental disorder associated with early life adversity (ELA). The goal of this study was to examine the association of ELA with oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) methylation among young adults. Drawing from a 21-year longitudinal cohort, we compared adulthood OXTR methylation frequency of 46 adults (23 males and 23 females) selected for high or low ELA exposure based on childhood socioeconomic status and exposure to physical and sexual abuse during childhood and adolescence. Associations between OXTR methylation and teacher-rated childhood trajectories of anxiousness were also assessed. ELA exposure was associated with one significant CpG site in the first intron among females, but not among males. Similarly, childhood trajectories of anxiousness were related to one significant CpG site within the promoter region among females, but not among males. This study suggests that females might be more sensitive to the impact of ELA on OXTR methylation than males.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences*
  • Anxiety / genetics*
  • Child
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Introns
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / genetics*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / genetics*
  • Young Adult


  • OXTR protein, human
  • Receptors, Oxytocin

Grant support