Developmental human behavioral epigenetics (DHBE) holds potential for contributing to
better understanding of how early life exposures contribute to human developmental
trajectories and to inform clinical practice and early interventions. Nonetheless, DHBE
research to date is challenged by two major issues: (a) the frequent use of retrospective
study designs; and (b) the major focus on epigenetic variations associated with early
life adversities, rather than protective care exposures.
Whereas retrospective and cross-sectional designs allow to set up DHBE research to reveal potential associations between environmental exposures and variations in DNA methylation, to date the lack of prospective and longitudinal research leads to reduced capacity of developing causal interpretations and theoretical modeling.
In this brand new published paper on Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, we discuss several methodological issues and we present specific study designs, highlighitng potentials and limitations of each of them. Examples from available literature are also provided. Awareness of the study design characteristics is key not only to deliver high quality research outputs; indeed, when scientific outputs are delivered to the naive audience through reach-out communication, careful interpretation of behavioral epigenetics results is warranted. Knowing the cons and pros of each study design is going to support coherent and ethical communications from scientists in this field of studies both to peers and to the public.
Article citation: Provenzi L, Brambilla M, Borgatti R, Montirosso R (2018) Methodological challenges in Developmental Human Behavioral Epigenetics: Insights into Study Design. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 12: 286. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00286