Brain development is guided by the interactions between the genetic blueprint and the environment. Epigenetic mechanisms, especially DNA methylation, can mediate these interactions and may also trigger long-lasting adaptations in developmental programs that increase the risk of major depressive disorders (MDD) and schizophrenia (SCZ). Early life adversity is a major risk factor for MDD/SCZ and can trigger persistent genome-wide changes in DNA methylation at genes important to early, but also to mature, brain function, including neural proliferation, differentiation, and synaptic plasticity, among others. Moreover, genetic variations controlling dynamic DNA methylation in early life are thought to influence later epigenomic changes in SCZ. This finding corroborates the high genetic load and a neurodevelopmental origin of SCZ and shows that epigenetic responses to the environment are, at least in part, genetically controlled. Interestingly, genetic variants influencing DNA methylation are also enriched in risk variants from genome-wide association studies (GWAS) on SCZ supporting a role in neurodevelopment. Overall, epigenomic responses to early life adversity appear to be controlled to different degrees by genetics in MDD/SCZ, even though the potential reversibility of epigenomic processes may offer new hope for timely therapeutic interventions in MDD/SCZ.
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