Association between gene methylation and experiences of historical trauma in Alaska Native peoples

Mary P Rogers-Lavanne, Alyssa C Bader, Alida de Flamingh, Sana Saboowala, Chuck Smythe, Bernadine Atchison, Nathan Moulton, Amelia Wilson, Derek E Wildman, Alan Boraas, Monica Uddin, Rosita Worl, Ripan S Malhi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review



Historical trauma experienced by Indigenous peoples of North America is correlated with health disparities and is hypothesized to be associated with DNA methylation. Massive group traumas such as genocide, loss of land and foodways, and forced conversion to Western lifeways may be embodied and affect individuals, families, communities, cultures, and health. This study approaches research with Alaska Native people using a community-engaged approach designed to create mutually-beneficial partnerships, including intentional relationship development, capacity building, and sample and data care.


A total of 117 Alaska Native individuals from two regions of Alaska joined the research study. Participants completed surveys on cultural identification, historical trauma (historical loss scale and historical loss associated symptoms scale), and general wellbeing. Participants provided a blood sample which was used to assess DNA methylation with the Illumina Infinium MethylationEPIC array.


We report an association between historical loss associated symptoms and DNA methylation at five CpG sites, evidencing the embodiment of historical trauma. We further report an association between cultural identification and general wellbeing, complementing evidence from oral narratives and additional studies that multiple aspects of cultural connection may buffer the effects of and/or aid in the healing process from historical trauma.


A community-engaged approach emphasizes balanced partnerships between communities and researchers. Here, this approach helps better understand embodiment of historical trauma in Alaska Native peoples. This analysis reveals links between the historical trauma response and DNA methylation. Indigenous communities have been stigmatized for public health issues instead caused by systemic inequalities, social disparities, and discrimination, and we argue that the social determinants of health model in Alaska Native peoples must include the vast impact of historical trauma and ongoing colonial violence.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number182
JournalInternational Journal for Equity in Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • Alaska Native peoples
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetics
  • Historical trauma
  • Community engaged research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Policy


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