Scars of childhood socioeconomic stress: A systematic review

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2020 Nov;118:397-410. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.08.001. Epub 2020 Aug 11.


Childhood socioeconomic position (SEP) is associated with the development of adult psychological outcomes, with DNA methylation (DNAm) as a mechanism to potentially explain these changes. We present the first systematic review synthesising the literature investigating childhood SEP and DNAm. Thirty-two publications were included. Seventeen studies focused on candidate genes, typically focusing on genes implicated with the stress response and/or development of psychiatric conditions. These studies typically investigated different regions of the genes, which revealed inconsistent results. Six studies calculated epigenetic age, with a small number revealing an elevated significant association with childhood SEP. Epigenome-wide studies revealed altered patterns of DNAm which varied between the nine studies. This research area is emerging and demonstrated great variance in findings with no clear patterns identified across studies. Multiple methodological shortcomings are identified, including at the phenotypic level where construct validity of childhood SEP is highly inconsistent, with studies using a wide range of measures. Larger cohorts will be required with international collaborations to strengthen this research area.

Keywords: Childhood socioeconomic position; Childhood socioeconomic status; DNA methylation; Epigenetics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cicatrix*
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Epigenome
  • Epigenomics
  • Humans
  • Socioeconomic Factors