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Preliminary indications that the Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up Intervention alters DNA methylation in maltreated children

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 December 2019

Julie R. Hoye*
Department of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA
David Cheishvili
Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, McGill University, Montreal, Québec, CAN
Heather A. Yarger
Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA
Tania L. Roth
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA
Moshe Szyf
Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, McGill University, Montreal, Québec, CAN
Mary Dozier*
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA
Author for Correspondence: Julie Hoye or Mary Dozier, 108 Wolf Hall, 105 The Green, Newark, DE19716. E-mail: or
Author for Correspondence: Julie Hoye or Mary Dozier, 108 Wolf Hall, 105 The Green, Newark, DE19716. E-mail: or


Maltreatment during development is associated with epigenetic changes to the genome. Enhancing caregiving may mitigate these effects. Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-Up (ABC) is an intervention that has been shown to improve parent–child relationships and a variety of biological and behavioral outcomes among children that are involved in Child Protective Services. This preliminary study, using a small sample size, explored whether children who received ABC exhibit different methylation patterns than those who received a control intervention. The participants included 23 children aged 6–21 months who were randomized to receive ABC (n = 12) or a control intervention (n = 11). While the children displayed similar methylation patterns preintervention, DNA methylation varied between the ABC and control groups at 14,828 sites postintervention. Functional pathway analyses indicated that these differences were associated with gene pathways that are involved in cell signaling, metabolism, and neuronal development. This study is one of the first to explore parenting intervention effects on children's DNA methylation at the whole genome level in infancy. These preliminary findings provide a basis for hypothesis generation in further research with larger-scale studies regarding the malleability of epigenetic states that are associated with maltreatment.

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