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Journal Article

Epigenetic aging in children from a small-scale farming society in The Congo Basin: Associations with child growth and family conflict


Boyette,  Adam H.       
Department of Human Behavior Ecology and Culture, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Gettler, L. T., Lin, D. T. S., Miegakanda, V., Lew-Levy, S., Eick, G. N., Snodgrass, J. J., et al. (2020). Epigenetic aging in children from a small-scale farming society in The Congo Basin: Associations with child growth and family conflict. Developmental Psychobiology, 62(2), 138-153. doi:10.1002/dev.21935.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0005-3ECA-3
Abstract Developmental environments influence individuals' long-term health trajectories, and there is increasing emphasis on understanding the biological pathways through which this occurs. Epigenetic aging evaluates DNA methylation at a suite of distinct CpG sites in the genome, and epigenetic age acceleration (EAA) is linked to heightened chronic morbidity and mortality risks in adults. Consequently, EAA provides insights on trajectories of biological aging, which early life experiences may help shape. However, few studies have measured correlates of children's epigenetic aging, especially outside of the U.S. and Europe. In particular, little is known about how children's growth and development relate to EAA in ecologies in which energetic and pathogenic stressors are commonplace. We studied EAA from dried blood spots among Bondongo children (n = 54) residing in a small-scale, fisher-farmer society in a remote region of the Republic of the Congo. Here, infectious disease burdens and their resultant energy demands are high. Children who were heavier for height or taller for age, respectively, exhibited greater EAA, including intrinsic EAA, which is considered to measure EAA internal to cells. Furthermore, we found that children in families with more conflict between parents had greater intrinsic EAA. These results suggest that in contexts in which limited energy must be allocated to competing demands, more investment in growth may coincide with greater EAA, which parallels findings in European children who do not face similar energetic constraints. Our findings also indicate that associations between adverse family environments and greater intrinsic EAA were nonetheless observable but only after adjustment for covariates relevant to the energetically and immunologically demanding nature of the local ecology.