Methylation of the OXTR gene in women with anorexia nervosa: Relationship to social behavior

Eur Eat Disord Rev. 2020 Jan;28(1):79-86. doi: 10.1002/erv.2703. Epub 2019 Dec 10.


DNA methylation allows for the environmental regulation of gene expression and is believed to link environmental stressors to psychiatric disorder phenotypes, such as anorexia nervosa (AN). The oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene is epigenetically regulated, and studies have shown associations between OXTR and social behaviours in various samples, including women with AN. The present study examined differential levels of methylation at various CG sites of the OXTR gene in 69 women with active AN (AN-Active), 21 in whom AN was in remission (AN-Rem) and 35 with no eating disorder (NED). Within each group, we explored the correlation between methylation and measures of social behaviour such as insecure attachment and social avoidance. Hypermethylation of a number of CG sites was seen in AN-Active participants as compared with AN-Rem and NED participants. In the AN-Rem sample, methylation at CG27501759 was significantly positively correlated with insecure attachment (r = .614, p = .003, permutation Q = 0.008) and social avoidance (r = .588, p = .005, permutation Q = 0.0184). Our results highlight differential methylation of the OXTR gene among women with AN, those in remission from AN, and those who never had AN and provide some evidence of associations between OXTR methylation and social behaviour in women remitted from AN.

Keywords: anorexia nervosa; eating disorders; epigenetics; methylation; oxytocin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anorexia Nervosa / genetics*
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology*
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / genetics*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Young Adult


  • Receptors, Oxytocin