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Can social support during pregnancy affect maternal DNA methylation? Findings from a cohort of African-Americans



While stress and the absence of social support during pregnancy have been linked to poor health outcomes, the underlying biological mechanisms are unclear.


We examined whether adverse experiences during pregnancy alter DNA methylation (DNAm) in maternal epigenomes. Analyses included 250 African-American mothers from the Boston Birth Cohort. Genome-wide DNAm profiling was performed in maternal blood collected after delivery, using the Infinium HumanMethylation450 Beadchip. Linear regression models, with adjustment of pertinent covariates, were applied.


While self-reported maternal psychosocial lifetime stress and stress during pregnancy was not associated with DNAm alterations, we found that absence of support from the baby’s father was significantly associated with maternal DNAm changes in TOR3A, IQCB1, C7orf36, and MYH7B and that lack of support from family and friends was associated with maternal DNA hypermethylation on multiple genes, including PRDM16 and BANKL.


This study provides intriguing results suggesting biological embedding of social support during pregnancy on maternal DNAm, warranting additional investigation, and replication.

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We thank the study participants for their help with the study. We are also grateful for the dedication and hard work of the field team at the Department of Pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine and for the help and support of the obstetric nursing staff at Boston Medical Center. This work was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (grants R21HD085556, R21ES011666, R21HD066471, R01HD086013, and 2R01HD041702) and the March of Dimes PERI (grants 20-FY02-56 and 21-FY07-605). X.H. is also partially supported by Hopkins Population Center (grant NICHD R24HD042854). Dr. Hongkai Ji is partially supported by NIH (grant R01HG006282).

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All authors meet the journal’s authorship requirements and approved the final manuscript. P.J.S. and X.W. developed the concept for this analysis. P.J.S., X.H., and N.N. drafted the manuscript. B.Z. conducted the data analysis. C.P. supervised the field data collection. G.W. supervised biospecimen processing and biomarker assays. X.H. maintained and managed the database. All authors contributed to the analysis plan, edited the manuscript, and interpreted data. X.W. was responsible for the initiation, overall development, and oversight of the study and its measures.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Pamela J. Surkan.

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Surkan, P.J., Hong, X., Zhang, B. et al. Can social support during pregnancy affect maternal DNA methylation? Findings from a cohort of African-Americans. Pediatr Res 88, 131–138 (2020).

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