Maternal behavior (MB) is observable across mammals and represents an important feature of environmental variation during early postnatal development. Oxytocin (OT) plays a crucial role in MB. Even prior to childbirth, pregnancy induces epigenetic and other downstream changes in the maternal OT-system, likely mediated by the actions of steroid hormones. However, little is known about the nature and consequences of epigenetic modifications in the maternal OT-encoding gene (OXT) during pregnancy. Our study aims to investigate temporal dynamics of OXT promoter DNA methylation (DNAm) throughout pregnancy in predicting MB in humans. In 107 mother-child dyads, maternal OXT DNAm was serially analyzed in whole blood in early, mid and late pregnancy. MB was coded based on standardized mother-child interactions at six months postpartum. After controlling for cellular heterogeneity, race/ethnicity, age, and socioeconomic status, OXT-promoter DNAm exhibited a dynamic profile during pregnancy (b = 0.026, t=-3.37, p <.001), with decreases in DNAm from early to mid-pregnancy and no further change until late pregnancy. Moreover, dynamic DNAm trajectories of the OXT-promoter region predicted MB (intrusiveness) at six months postpartum (b = 0.006, t = 2.0, p < 0.05), with 6% higher OXT DNAm in late pregnancy in intrusive compared to non-intrusive mothers. We here demonstrate that OXT promoter DNAm changes significantly throughout gestation in peripheral blood and that these changes are associated with variability in MB, providing a novel potential biomarker predicting postnatal MB.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Biological Psychiatry