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Department of Psychiatry

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Maternal and Child Health | Neuroscience and Neurobiology | Psychiatry and Psychology | Race and Ethnicity | Reproductive and Urinary Physiology | Women's Health


Latina mothers, who have one of the highest fertility rates among ethnic groups in the United States (US), often experience discrimination. Psychosocial influences during pregnancy, such as discrimination stress, promotes inflammation. However, the role of epigenetic markers of inflammation as a mediator between, and predictor of, maternal discrimination stress and neuropsychiatric outcomes has not been extensively studied. The current study investigates the role of DNA methylation at FOXP3 Treg-cell-specific demethylated region (TSDR), as a marker of regulatory T (Treg) cells that are important negative regulators of inflammation, and the promoter of tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) gene, an important pro-inflammatory cytokine, in relation to discrimination stress during pregnancy and depression and anxiety symptomatology. A sample of 148 Latina women residing in the US (mean age 27.6 years) were assessed prenatally at 24-32 weeks' gestation and 4-6 weeks postnatally for perceived discrimination exposure (Everyday Discrimination Scale, EDS), emotional distress (depression, anxiety, perinatal-specific depression), acculturation, and acculturative stress. DNA methylation levels at the FOXP3 and TNFalpha promoter regions from blood samples collected at the prenatal stage were assessed by bisulphite pyrosequencing. Regression analyses showed that prenatal EDS associated with postnatal emotional distress, depression and anxiety symptoms only in those individuals with higher than mean levels of FOXP3 TSDR and TNFalpha promoter methylation; no such significant associations were found in those with lower than mean levels of methylation for either. We further found that these relationships were mediated by TNFalpha only in those with high FOXP3 TSDR methylation, implying that immunosuppression via TNFalpha promoter methylation buffers the impact of discrimination stress on postpartum symptomatology. These results indicate that epigenetic markers of immunosuppression and inflammation play an important role in resilience or sensitivity, respectively, to prenatal stress.


Discrimination, Epigenetic, Inflammation, Latina, Maternal stress, TNFα, Treg cells

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Copyright © 2020 The Authors. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

DOI of Published Version



Sluiter F, Incollingo Rodriguez AC, Nephew BC, Cali R, Murgatroyd C, Santos HP Jr. Pregnancy associated epigenetic markers of inflammation predict depression and anxiety symptoms in response to discrimination. Neurobiol Stress. 2020 Nov 21;13:100273. doi: 10.1016/j.ynstr.2020.100273. PMID: 33344726; PMCID: PMC7739167. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Neurobiology of stress

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.