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Journal Article

Epigenetic modification of the oxytocin receptor gene is associated with emotion processing in the infant brain

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Krol,  K. M.
Department of Psychology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA;
Max Planck Research Group Early Social Development, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Grossmann,  Tobias
Max Planck Research Group Early Social Development, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Department of Psychology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA;

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Citation

Krol, K. M., Puglia, M. H., Morris, J. P., Connelly, J. J., & Grossmann, T. (2019). Epigenetic modification of the oxytocin receptor gene is associated with emotion processing in the infant brain. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 37: 100648. doi:10.1016/j.dcn.2019.100648.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-91A5-D
Abstract
The neural capacity to discriminate between emotions emerges early in development, though little is known about specific factors that contribute to variability in this vital skill during infancy. In adults, DNA methylation of the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTRm) is an epigenetic modification that is variable, predictive of gene expression, and has been linked to autism spectrum disorder and the neural response to social cues. It is unknown whether OXTRm is variable in infants, and whether it is predictive of early social function. Implementing a developmental neuroimaging epigenetics approach in a large sample of infants (N = 98), we examined whether OXTRm is associated with neural responses to emotional expressions. OXTRm was assessed at 5 months of age. At 7 months of age, infants viewed happy, angry, and fearful faces while functional near-infrared spectroscopy was recorded. We observed that OXTRm shows considerable variability among infants. Critically, infants with higher OXTRm show enhanced responses to anger and fear and attenuated responses to happiness in right inferior frontal cortex, a region implicated in emotion processing through action-perception coupling. Findings support models emphasizing oxytocin's role in modulating neural response to emotion and identify OXTRm as an epigenetic mark contributing to early brain function.