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Funded Research

The methylomic consequences of neighborhood disadvantage for youth risk-taking behaviors

Neighborhood disadvantage is a potent predictor of youth aggressive and rule-breaking antisocial behaviors (ASB). This association with youth ASB emerges early in life and increases over time. Understanding how neighborhood disadvantage leads to youth ASB thus constitutes a critical public health need. To date, however, the biological mechanism(s) through which disadvantage influences youth ASB remain unclear. The proposed R01 will explore methylation as a key biological pathway underlying the association between neighborhood disadvantage and youth ASB. We specifically postulate that neighborhood disadvantage and its social and physical `active ingredients? (e.g., harsh parenting, exposure to community violence, and toxicant exposure) will predict youth ASB via methylomic alterations, and that these associations will persist over any genetic confounds. To examine this possibility, we will generate methylation data from blood and/or saliva at four assessment waves (neonatal, middle childhood, and early and mid-adolescence) in a discovery sample of 500 adolescent twin pairs (1,000 twins) residing in modestly-to-severely disadvantaged neighborhoods. We then propose to replicate the phenotypic associations in an independent sample of 237 disadvantaged youth with methylation data from blood and/or saliva at three assessment waves (neonatal, middle childhood, and mid-adolescence). The use of two samples of youth residing in disadvantaged neighborhoods and assessed from birth to adolescence affords us the unique opportunity to not only clearly identify neighborhood-induced methylomic alterations, but also to quickly move the field of social and environmental epigenetics forward in several areas.


Michigan State University (MSU)

Funding Period:

07/20/2021 to 05/31/2026