Social Environment and Epigenetics

Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2019;42:83-126. doi: 10.1007/7854_2019_114.


Our social environment, from the microscopic to the macro-social, affects us for the entirety of our lives. One integral line of research to examine how interpersonal and societal environments can get "under the skin" is through the lens of epigenetics. Epigenetic mechanisms are adaptations made to our genome in response to our environment which include tags placed on and removed from the DNA itself to how our DNA is packaged, affecting how our genes are read, transcribed, and interact. These tags are affected by social environments and can persist over time; this may aid us in responding to experiences and exposures, both the enriched and the disadvantageous. From memory formation to immune function, the experience-dependent plasticity of epigenetic modifications to micro- and macro-social environments may contribute to the process of learning from comfort, pain, and stress to better survive in whatever circumstances life has in store.

Keywords: Adversity; Built environment; DNA methylation; Enriched environment; Epigenetics; Histone modifications; Interpersonal; Learning; Pain; Parenting; Social environment; Stress.

MeSH terms

  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Epigenomics*
  • Humans
  • Memory
  • Pain
  • Social Environment*