Background Maternal depression and anxiety during pregnancy may enhance fetal exposure to glucocorticoids (GCs) and harm neurodevelopment. We tested whether a novel cross-tissue polyepigenetic biomarker indicative of in utero exposure to GC is associated with mental and behavioral disorders and their severity in children, possibly mediating the associations between maternal prenatal depressive and anxiety symptoms and these child outcomes. Methods Children (n = 814) from the Prediction and Prevention of Preeclampsia and Intrauterine Growth Restriction (PREDO) study were followed-up from birth to age 7.1–10.7 years. A weighted polyepigenetic GC exposure score was calculated based on the methylation profile of 24 CpGs from umbilical cord blood. Child diagnosis of mental and behavioral disorder (n = 99) and its severity, defined as the number of days the child had received treatment (all 99 had received outpatient treatment and 8 had been additionally in inpatient treatment) for mental or behavioral disorder as the primary diagnosis, came from the Care Register for Health Care. Mothers (n = 408) reported on child total behavior problems at child's age of 2.3–5.8 years and their own depressive and anxiety symptoms during pregnancy (n = 583). Results The fetal polyepigenetic GC exposure score at birth was not associated with child hazard of mental and behavioral disorder (HR = 0.82, 95% CI 0.54; 1.24, p = 0.35) or total behavior problems (unstandardized beta = −0.10, 95% CI -0.31; 0.10, p = 0.33). However, for one standard deviation decrease in the polyepigenetic score, the child had spent 2.94 (95%CI 1.59; 5.45, p < 0.001) more days in inpatient or outpatient treatment with any mental and behavioral disorder as the primary diagnosis. Criteria for mediation tests were not met. Conclusions These findings suggest that fetal polyepigenetic GC exposure score at birth was not associated with any mental or behavioral disorder diagnosis or mother-rated total behavior problems, but it may contribute to identifying children at birth who are at risk for more severe mental or behavioral disorders.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100275
JournalNeurobiology of stress
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 515 Psychology
  • 3124 Neurology and psychiatry
  • 1184 Genetics, developmental biology, physiology

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