"[E]ven the relatively common life experiences of feeling unable to 'control important things in your life' and 'cope with all the things you have to do' are associated with alterations of DNA functioning in the placenta that, in turn, affect fetal development," wrote Catherine Monk, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry, behavioral medicine, and developmental neuroscience at Columbia University Medical Center, and colleagues.
The women's distress was linked to increased methylation of the HSD11B2 and FKBP5 genes in the placenta and reflected in reductions in fetal coupling. "Coupling" is the correlation between fetal movement and heart rate that develops during gestation and which "is positively associated with more mature neural integration at birth," wrote Monk and colleagues.
Since a mother’s adverse pregnancy experiences are known to increase the child’s risk for psychopathology, the results "add molecular support" and "proximal evidence for the putative prenatal shaping of children’s mental health trajectories."
For more in Psychiatric News about the effects of stress in pregnancy, see "Researchers Tackle Complexity of Intergenerational Stress Transmission."