Background: Maternal depression and anxiety during pregnancy may enhance fetal exposure to glucocorticoids (GCs) and harm neurodevelopment. We tested whether a novel cross-tissue polyepigenetic biomarker indicative of in utero exposure to GC is associated with mental and behavioral disorders and their severity in children, possibly mediating the associations between maternal prenatal depressive and anxiety symptoms and these child outcomes. Methods: Children (n = 814) from the Prediction and Prevention of Preeclampsia and Intrauterine Growth Restriction (PREDO) study were followed-up from birth to age 7.1–10.7 years. A weighted polyepigenetic GC exposure score was calculated based on the methylation profile of 24 CpGs from umbilical cord blood. Child diagnosis of mental and behavioral disorder (n = 99) and its severity, defined as the number of days the child had received treatment (all 99 had received outpatient treatment and 8 had been additionally in inpatient treatment) for mental or behavioral disorder as the primary diagnosis, came from the Care Register for Health Care. Mothers (n = 408) reported on child total behavior problems at child's age of 2.3–5.8 years and their own depressive and anxiety symptoms during pregnancy (n = 583). Results: The fetal polyepigenetic GC exposure score at birth was not associated with child hazard of mental and behavioral disorder (HR = 0.82, 95% CI 0.54; 1.24, p = 0.35) or total behavior problems (unstandardized beta = −0.10, 95% CI -0.31; 0.10, p = 0.33). However, for one standard deviation decrease in the polyepigenetic score, the child had spent 2.94 (95%CI 1.59; 5.45, p < 0.001) more days in inpatient or outpatient treatment with any mental and behavioral disorder as the primary diagnosis. Criteria for mediation tests were not met. Conclusions: These findings suggest that fetal polyepigenetic GC exposure score at birth was not associated with any mental or behavioral disorder diagnosis or mother-rated total behavior problems, but it may contribute to identifying children at birth who are at risk for more severe mental or behavioral disorders.
FörderungenUniversity of Helsinki Research Funds European Union's Horizon 2020 Award European Commission Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation Orion Research Foundation Emil Aaltonen Foundation Finnish Medical Foundation Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation Novo Nordisk Foundation Paivikki and Sakari Sohlberg Foundation Sigrid Juselius Foundation Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust Doctoral School of Psychology, Learning and Education Academy of Finland