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Adverse childhood experiences, epigenetics and telomere length variation in childhood and beyond: a systematic review of the literature

Journal article
Authors J. Lang
J. McKie
H. Smith
A. McLaughlin
Christopher Gillberg
P. G. Shiels
H. Minnis
Published in European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
ISSN 1018-8827
Publication year 2019
Published at Gillberg Neuropsychiatry Centre
Language en
Subject categories Psychiatry


A systematic review following PRISMA guidelines was conducted to answer the question: What epigenetic, telomeric and associated biological changes are associated with exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in the under 12s? Using PRISMA guidelines, appropriate databases were searched. 190 papers were returned with 38 articles fully reviewed. Articles were each independently quality rated by two authors using the Crowe Critical Appraisal Tool and data were extracted. Of the 38 articles, 23 were rated as very high quality. Most study participants were adults (n = 7769) with n = 727 child participants. Only seven of the very/high-quality studies were prospective and involved children. Methylation was the most studied method of epigenetic modification. There is some evidence supporting epigenetic modification of certain markers in participants exposed to ACEs measured in adulthood. Research is lacking on non-coding aspects of the epigenome and on coding aspects other than DNA methylation. There is some evidence of a more powerful effect on telomere length if physical neglect was involved. Much further work is required to model biological and psychological effects of epigenetic changes during childhood using prospective study designs. The effect of ACEs on the cellular ageing process during childhood is inadequately investigated and relies solely on measure of telomere length. Future research suggestions are proposed. © 2019, The Author(s).

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