Preliminary indications that the Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up Intervention alters DNA methylation in maltreated children

Dev Psychopathol. 2020 Oct;32(4):1486-1494. doi: 10.1017/S0954579419001421.


Maltreatment during development is associated with epigenetic changes to the genome. Enhancing caregiving may mitigate these effects. Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-Up (ABC) is an intervention that has been shown to improve parent-child relationships and a variety of biological and behavioral outcomes among children that are involved in Child Protective Services. This preliminary study, using a small sample size, explored whether children who received ABC exhibit different methylation patterns than those who received a control intervention. The participants included 23 children aged 6-21 months who were randomized to receive ABC (n = 12) or a control intervention (n = 11). While the children displayed similar methylation patterns preintervention, DNA methylation varied between the ABC and control groups at 14,828 sites postintervention. Functional pathway analyses indicated that these differences were associated with gene pathways that are involved in cell signaling, metabolism, and neuronal development. This study is one of the first to explore parenting intervention effects on children's DNA methylation at the whole genome level in infancy. These preliminary findings provide a basis for hypothesis generation in further research with larger-scale studies regarding the malleability of epigenetic states that are associated with maltreatment.

Keywords: DNA methylation; epigenetics; intervention; maltreatment; parenting.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Abuse
  • Child Protective Services
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Object Attachment*
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parenting