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DOI: 10.1038/s41398-024-02841-y; PMCID: PMC10902402


Prior research has identified epigenetic predictors of attention problems in school-aged children but has not yet investigated these in young children, or children at elevated risk of attention problems due to preterm birth. The current study evaluated epigenome-wide associations between neonatal DNA methylation and attention problems at age 2 years in children born very preterm. Participants included 441 children from the Neonatal Neurobehavior and Outcomes in Very Preterm Infants (NOVI) Study, a multi-site study of infants born < 30 weeks gestational age. DNA methylation was measured from buccal swabs collected at NICU discharge using the Illumina MethylationEPIC Bead Array. Attention problems were assessed at 2 years of adjusted age using the attention problems subscale of the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). After adjustment for multiple testing, DNA methylation at 33 CpG sites was associated with child attention problems. Differentially methylated CpG sites were located in genes previously linked to physical and mental health, including several genes associated with ADHD in prior epigenome-wide and genome-wide association studies. Several CpG sites were located in genes previously linked to exposure to prenatal risk factors in the NOVI sample. Neonatal epigenetics measured at NICU discharge could be useful in identifying preterm children at risk for long-term attention problems and related psychiatric disorders, who could benefit from early prevention and intervention efforts.

Journal Title

Transl Psychiatry





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MeSH Keywords

Infant; Child; Pregnancy; Female; Humans; Infant, Newborn; Child, Preschool; DNA Methylation; Epigenome; Genome-Wide Association Study; Infant, Extremely Premature; Premature Birth; CpG Islands; Epigenesis, Genetic; Attention


Pregnancy; DNA Methylation; Epigenome; Genome-Wide Association Study; Premature Birth; CpG Islands; Genetic Epigenesis; Attention


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