A systematic review of childhood maltreatment and DNA methylation: candidate gene and epigenome-wide approaches

Transl Psychiatry. 2021 Feb 19;11(1):134. doi: 10.1038/s41398-021-01207-y.


Childhood maltreatment is a major risk factor for chronic and severe mental and physical health problems across the lifespan. Increasing evidence supports the hypothesis that maltreatment is associated with epigenetic changes that may subsequently serve as mechanisms of disease. The current review uses a systematic approach to identify and summarize the literature related to childhood maltreatment and alterations in DNA methylation in humans. A total of 100 empirical articles were identified in our systematic review of research published prior to or during March 2020, including studies that focused on candidate genes and studies that leveraged epigenome-wide data in both children and adults. Themes arising from the literature, including consistent and inconsistent patterns of results, are presented. Several directions for future research, including important methodological considerations for future study design, are discussed. Taken together, the literature on childhood maltreatment and DNA methylation underscores the complexity of transactions between the environment and biology across development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse*
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Epigenome
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors