DNA methylation in blood cells is associated with cortisol levels in offspring of mothers who had prenatal post-traumatic stress disorder

Peter Daniel Fransquet, Line Hjort, Feride Rushiti, Shr Jie Wang, Sebahate Pacolli Krasniqi, Selvi Izeti Çarkaxhiu, Dafina Arifaj, Vjosa Devaja Xhemaili, Mimoza Salihu, Nazmie Abullahu Leku, Joanne Ryan

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Maternal stress during pregnancy is associated with differential DNA methylation in offspring and disrupted cortisol secretion. This study aimed to determine methylation signatures of cortisol levels in children, and whether associations differ based on maternal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Blood epigenome-wide methylation and fasting cortisol levels were measured in 118 offspring of mothers recruited from the Kosovo Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims. Mothers underwent clinically administered assessment for PTSD using Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Correlations between offspring methylation and cortisol levels were examined using epigenome-wide analysis, adjusting for covariates. Subsequent analysis focussed on a priori selected genes involved in the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis stress signalling. Methylation at four sites were correlated with cortisol levels (cg15321696, r = −0.33, cg18105800, r = +0.33, cg00986889, r = −0.25, and cg15920527, r = −0.27). In adjusted multivariable regression, when stratifying based on prenatal PTSD status, significant associations were only found for children born to mothers with prenatal PTSD (p < 0.001). Several sites within HPA axis genes were also associated with cortisol levels in the maternal PTSD group specifically. There is evidence that methylation is associated with cortisol levels, particularly in offspring born to mothers with prenatal PTSD. However, larger studies need to be carried out to independently validate these findings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)755-766
Number of pages12
JournalStress and Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


  • BDNF
  • cortisol
  • CRH
  • CRHR1/2
  • DNA methylation
  • epigenetics
  • FKBP5
  • intergenerational
  • maternal PTSD
  • NR3C1/2
  • offspring
  • war

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