Prenatal stress and epigenetics

L Cao-Lei, S R de Rooij, S King, S G Matthews, G A S Metz, T J Roseboom, M Szyf

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In utero exposure to environmental stress in both animals and humans could result in long-term epigenome alterations which further lead to consequences for adaptation and development in the offspring. Epigenetics, especially DNA methylation, is considered one of the most widely studied and well-characterized mechanisms involved in the long-lasting effects of in utero stress exposure. In this review, we outlined evidence from animal and human prenatal research supporting the view that prenatal stress could lead to lasting, broad and functionally organized signatures in DNA methylation which, in turn, could mediate exposure-phenotype associations. We also emphasized the advantage of using stressor from quasi-randomly assigned experiments. Furthermore, we discuss challenges that still need to be addressed in this field in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)198-210
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Early online date18 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


This research was supported by grants from the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) (MOP-1150067), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery (#05519) and the EU BRAINAGE (Project 279281).

FundersFunder number
Canadian Institutes of Health ResearchMOP-1150067
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada05519


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