Internalizing symptoms associate with the pace of epigenetic aging in childhood

Biol Psychol. 2021 Feb;159:108021. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2021.108021. Epub 2021 Jan 15.


Childhood psychiatric symptoms may be associated with advanced biological aging. This study examined whether epigenetic age acceleration (EAA) associates with internalizing and externalizing symptoms that were prospectively collected across childhood in a longitudinal cohort study. At age 6 buccal epithelial cells from 148 children (69 girls) were collected to survey genome-wide DNA methylation. EAA was estimated using the Horvath clock. Internalizing symptoms at ages 2.5 and 4 years significantly predicted higher EAA at age 6, which in turn was significantly associated with internalizing symptoms at ages 6-10 years. Similar trends for externalizing symptoms did not reach statistical significance. These findings indicate advanced biological aging in relation to child mental health and may help better identify those at risk for lasting impairments associated with internalizing disorders.

Keywords: Biological aging; Childhood; Epigenetic age acceleration; Externalizing symptoms; Internalizing symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging* / genetics
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • DNA Methylation* / genetics
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics
  • Epigenomics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies