Perinatal depression and DNA methylation of oxytocin-related genes: a study of mothers and their children

Horm Behav. 2017 Nov;96:84-94. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2017.09.006. Epub 2017 Sep 19.


The present study investigated the association of perinatal depression (PD) with differential methylation of 3 genomic regions among mother and child dyads: exon 3 within the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene and 2 intergenic regions (IGR) between the oxytocin (OXT) and vasopressin (AVP) genes. Maternal PD was assessed at 5 time-points during pregnancy and postpartum. Four groups were established based on Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) cut-off scores: no PD, prenatal or postpartum depressive symptoms only and persistent PD (depressive symptoms both prenatally and postpartum). Salivary DNA was collected from mothers and children at the final time-point, 2.9years postpartum. Mothers with persistent PD had significantly higher overall OXTR methylation than the other groups and this pattern extended to 16/22 individual CpG sites. For the IGR, only the region closer to the AVP gene (AVP IGR) showed significant differential methylation, with the persistent PD group displaying the lowest levels of methylation overall, but not for individual CpG sites. These results suggest that transient episodes of depression may not be associated with OXTR hypermethylation. Validation studies need to confirm the downstream biological effects of AVP IGR hypomethylation as it relates to persistent PD. Differential methylation of the OXTR and IGR regions was not observed among children exposed to maternal PD. The consequences of OXTR hypermethylation and AVP IGR hypomethylation found in mothers with persistent PDS may not only impact the OXT system, but may also compromise maternal behavior, potentially resulting in negative outcomes for the developing child.

Keywords: DNA methylation; Epigenetics; Intergenic region; Mother-child dyads; Oxytocin receptor; Perinatal depression.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child, Preschool
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Depression / complications
  • Depression / genetics*
  • Depression, Postpartum / genetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior
  • Mother-Child Relations / psychology
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Neurophysins / genetics
  • Neurophysins / metabolism
  • Oxytocin* / genetics
  • Oxytocin* / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / genetics
  • Pregnancy Complications / psychology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / genetics*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / psychology*
  • Protein Precursors / genetics
  • Protein Precursors / metabolism
  • Receptors, Oxytocin* / genetics
  • Receptors, Oxytocin* / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Vasopressins / genetics
  • Vasopressins / metabolism


  • AVP protein, human
  • Neurophysins
  • Protein Precursors
  • Receptors, Oxytocin
  • Vasopressins
  • Oxytocin