In this 2018 paper published on Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, we provide a systematic review of literature focused on the epigenetic markers of preterm birth and early exposures to specific environmental conditions during the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Evidence to date suggests that the methylation status of specific stress-related genes is affected by early exposure to stress (e.g., NICU stay in general or specific stressors).
The application of behavioral epigenetics to the field of preterm studies (i.e., Preterm Behavioral Epigenetics, PBE) is rapidly growing and holds promises to provide valid insights for research and clinical activity.
Nonetheless, the PBE research field is a newborn one and a lot has to be done to advance scientific progress and to provide clinically relevant and informative insights for NICU healthcare professionals. Specific research issues to be addressed in future investigations include:
1. To develop prospective and longitudinal study design for PBE research in order to offer robust methodological support to data interpretation and clinical implications;
2. To investigate the epigenetic vestiges of early exposure to protective exposures in NICU in order to provide evidence-base information on the effects of developmental care interventions for preterm infants;
3. To pursue an integration of different omics (e.g., methylomics, telomeromics, connectomics) in order to provide a more complete (yet complex) view of how early exposures in life contribute to the programming of developmental trajectories of preterm infants.
Article citation: Provenzi L, Guida E, Montirosso R (2018) Preterm Behavioral Epigenetics: A Systematic Review. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 84: 262-271. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.08.020