The association of epigenetic age acceleration and depressive and anxiety symptom severity among children recently exposed to substantiated maltreatment

Zhenyu Z. Zhang, Camille Moeckel, Manal Mustafa, Hung Pham, Anneke E. Olson, Divya Mehta, Lorah D. Dorn, Christopher G. Engeland, Chad E. Shenk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Child maltreatment is a major risk factor for both depressive and anxiety disorders. However, many children exposed to maltreatment never meet diagnostic threshold for either disorder while experiencing only transitory symptoms post-exposure. Recent research suggests DNA methylation adds predictive value in explaining variation in the onset and course of multiple psychiatric disorders following exposure to child maltreatment. Epigenetic age acceleration (EAA), the biological aging of cells not attributable to chronological aging, is a stress-sensitive biomarker capturing genome-wide variation in DNA methylation with the potential to identify children who have been maltreated at greatest risk for depressive and anxiety disorders. The current study examined two EAA clocks appropriate for the pediatric population, the Horvath and Pediatric Buccal Epigenetic (PedBE) clocks, and their associations with depressive and anxiety symptom severity following child maltreatment. Children (N = 71) 8–15 years of age, all of whom were exposed to substantiated child maltreatment in the 12 months prior to study entry, were enrolled. Risk modeling adjusting for several confounders revealed that EAA estimated via the Horvath clock was significantly associated with more severe depressive and anxiety symptoms. The PedBE clock was not associated with either depressive or anxiety symptom severity. Sensitivity analyses demonstrated that EAA via the Horvath clock robustly predicted depressive and anxiety symptom severity across multiple modeling scenarios. Our findings advance existing research suggesting EAA, as estimated with the Horvath clock, may be a promising biomarker for identifying children at greatest risk for more severe depressive and anxiety symptoms following maltreatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-13
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
StatePublished - Sep 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry

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