Imprinting methylation; early life influences and later cognition and mood

Early life experiences can influence adult outcomes

A growing body of evidence suggests that early life experiences (from fetal life through childhood) can influence adult outcomes. However, the pathways and mechanisms by which earlier experiences become embedded in an individual's life-course, and how they influence health and behavioural outcomes, are not fully understood.


This project focuses on the role of epigenetics in this process. Epigenetics refers to information in the human genome other than that in the DNA sequence. The field of epigenetics provides a key emerging platform for interdisciplinary research between biological and social scientists with the potential to explain many of the complex interactions between social phenomena and human biology and behaviour.

The effect of the early social environment on epigenetic status and its relationship to cognition and mood in later life

This study will investigate the effect of the early social environment on epigenetic status and its relationship to cognition and mood in later life. It exploits existing data and samples collected from two important UK longitudinal studies (Aberdeen Birth Cohorts; born in 1921 and 1936 and followed up to the present day). The data held includes extensive information on early social environment, later life exposures, and changes in cognition, mood, and brain volumes into old age.

The epigenetic measurements will be carried out using Next Generation BiSulfite Amplicon Sequencing (BSAS) to determine methylation states. We will focus on imprinted regions of the genome. These are particularly relevant to longitudinal study designs as imprinting occurs early in development and it can be influenced by the early environment. Such marks may be stable over decades and they typically occur in multiple tissue types. There is also evidence for the importance of imprinting in brain function, cognition, mood and behaviour.

This project on historical birth cohorts is complemented by our existing programme of research on the effects of the early environment on imprinting methylation in contemporary birth cohorts.

Social and biological scientists

This multidisciplinary project involves collaboration between social and biological scientists in three UK centres (University of Aberdeen, University College London, and University of Cambridge). It crucially involves the training of a post-doctoral scientist to work beyond traditional boundaries and contribute to the development of a new discipline that spans the biological and social sciences.

For more information on the Aberdeen Birth Cohorts

Principal Investigator

Professor Paul Haggarty

Head of Lifelong Health Division

University of Aberdeen

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