“Epigenetics and Developmental Psychopathology,” Michael Meaney, CM, PhD, CQ, FRSC, Director, Translational Neuroscience programme, Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, Singapore (on sabbatical 2019-22); James McGill Professor, departments of Psychiatry and
Neurology & Neurosurgery, and Director of the Sackler Program for
Epigenetics & Psychobiology, McGill University
Epigenetics refers to a collection of molecular modifications to the chromatin environment that regulate the probability of gene expression. Epigenetic signals, especially the more stable modifications, such as DNA methylation, are implicated in cell differentiation. However, a portion of the epigenome remains “plastic” and is sensitive to environmental regulation, thus producing stable individual differences in cell function and health outcomes. Epigenetic variation at such sites strongly reflects G x E interactions and may thus serve as an interesting class of biomarkers reflecting both experience and genetic predispositions. This lecture will explore the implications for social psychiatry and mental health. Emphasis will be placed on the limitations of the current state of knowledge, especially with respect to the issue of inter-generational transmission.
Michael Meaney was trained in Child Clinical Psychology (Concordia University) as well as Molecular Neuroscience (The Rockefeller University). His research interest is that of the stable effects of early experience on gene expression and brain development and function, focusing on the influence of variations in maternal care. Over the past 10 years he has been actively developing translational research models in the context of birth cohort studies. Together these studies led to the discovery of novel epigenetic mechanisms for the influence of early experience and their implications for understanding the origins of resilience and susceptibility in children. This program now emphasizes informatic approaches with genomic and epigenomic data to examine the origins of individual differences in the risk for psychopathology.