The first thousand days from conception are an early developmental period that is extremely sensitive to environmental stimulations. In humans, environmental stimuli mainly overlap with quality of parental care. Variations in the early quality of parental caregiving may contribute to set epigenetic markers on the infant's DNA. In turn, these marks may promote - or impair - the neurobehavioral, emotional, and socio-cognitive developmental trajectories observed during childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
This is the main finding of a recent work published with colleagues of the IRCCS Fondazione Santa Lucia in Roma, Italy and the IRCCS E. Medea in Bosisio Parini, Italy. In this systematic review of the scientific literature, 34 four studies were included - reporting on more than 800 subjects. The methylation of the gene encoding for cortisol receptors (i.e., NR3C1 gene) was higher in subjects with early adverse experiences; nonetheless, the quality of maternal caregiving behaviors may buffer precocious stress exposures.
Although this review is far from being conclusive, the findings highlight the relevance of the first 1000 days from conception as a plastic period for human development. The promotion of early family-centered interventions in this sensitive time window should be prioritized by clinicians and policymakers.
Berretta, E., Guida, E., Forni, D., & Provenzi, L. (2021). Glucocorticoid receptor gene (NR3C1) methylation during the first thousand days: Environmental exposures and developmental outcomes. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews, 125, 493–502. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2021.03.003