Exploring genetic moderators and epigenetic mediators of contextual and family effects: From Gene × Environment to epigenetics

Steven R.H. Beach, Gene H. Brody, Allen W. Barton, Robert A. Philibert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the current manuscript, we provide an overview of a research program at the University of Georgia's Center for Family Research designed to expand upon rapid and ongoing developments in the fields of genetics and epigenetics. By placing those developments in the context of translational research on family and community determinants of health and well-being among rural African Americans, we hope to identify novel, modifiable environments and biological processes. In the first section of the article, we review our earlier work on genotypic variation effects on the association between family context and mental and physical health outcomes as well as differential responses to family-based intervention. We then transition to discuss our more recent research on the association of family and community environments with epigenetic processes. In this second section of the article, we begin by briefly reviewing terminology and basic considerations before describing evidence that early environments may influence epigenetic motifs that potentially serve as mediators of long-term effects of early family and community environments on longer term health outcomes. We also provide evidence that genotype may sometimes influence epigenetic outcomes. Finally, we describe our recent efforts to use genome-wide characterization of epigenetic patterns to better understand the biological impact of protective parenting on long-term shifts in inflammatory processes and its potential implications for young adult health. As will be clear, research on epigenetics as a mediator of the connections between family/community processes and a range of health outcomes is still in its infancy, but the potential to develop important insights regarding mechanisms linking modifiable environments to biological processes and long-term health outcomes already is coming into view.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1333-1346
Number of pages14
JournalDevelopment and Psychopathology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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