Glucocorticoid receptor DNA methylation, childhood maltreatment and major depression

Angela C. Bustamante, Allison E. Aiello, Sandro Galea, Andrew Ratanatharathorn, Carol Noronha, Derek E. Wildman, Monica Uddin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction Altered DNA methylation (DNAm) levels of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis genes has been associated with exposure to childhood maltreatment (CM) and depression; however, it is unknown whether CM and depression have joint and potentially interacting effects on the glucocorticoid receptor (NR3C1) DNAm. We investigated the impact of CM and lifetime major depressive disorder (MDD) on NR3C1 DNAm and gene expression (GE) in 147 adult participants from the Detroit Neighborhood Health Study. Methods NR3C1 promoter region DNAm was assessed via pyrosequencing using whole blood-derived DNA. Quantitative RT-PCR assays measured GE from leukocyte-derived RNA. Linear regression models were used to examine the relationship among CM, MDD, and DNAm. Results Both CM and MDD were significant predictors of NR3C1 DNAm: CM was associated with an increase in DNAm in an EGR1 transcription factor binding site (TFBS), whereas MDD was associated with a decrease in DNAm downstream of the TFBS. No significant CM-MDD interactions were observed. CM alone was associated with significantly lower NR3C1 GE. Limitations Our report of CM is a retrospective self-report of abuse, which may introduce recall bias. DNAm was measured in whole blood and may not reflect brain-derived DNAm levels. Conclusions CM and MDD are both associated with altered DNAm levels in the NR3C1 promoter region, however the location and direction of effects differ between the two exposures, and the functional effects, as measured by GE, appear to be limited to CM exposure alone. CM exposure may be biologically embedded in this key HPA axis gene.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-188
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • Childhood maltreatment
  • Depression
  • Development
  • Epigenetics
  • Gene expression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Glucocorticoid receptor DNA methylation, childhood maltreatment and major depression'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this