Epigenetics

Environmental Influences on Neurodevelopmental Outcome in Infants Born Very Preterm (ECHO-NOVI)
The Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program is part of a National Institutes of Health (NIH)'s seven-year initiative to support multiple, synergistic, longitudinal studies using existing study populations, called cohorts, to investigate environmental exposures — including physical, chemical, biological, social, behavioral, natural and built environments — on child health and development. ECHO plans to enroll over 50,000 children from across the United States in an attempt to collect a broad amount of data that helps determine the trajectory of health development, prediction of disease development and new tools and approaches for both environmental and pediatric monitoring.

We are focusing on the neurodevelopmental outcomes related to the ECHO initiative, through our study, "The Neonatal Neurobehavior and Outcomes in Very Preterm Infants (NOVI)." We are calling this integration of NOVI into the ECHO initiative, "ECHO-NOVI".

About one-third of infants born less than 30 weeks suffer long-term developmental challenges. We hope to identify which infants are more likely to become developmentally impaired and determine whether special types of care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and early developmental intervention services after discharge could improve the developmental outcomes for premature infants and their families. To date in the NOVI study, we have collected data on these infant's early behavioral development up to the age of two. In ECHO-NOVI, we plan to follow these children through age seven to further determine potential mechanisms that lead to developmental and child health outcomes. Primary Investigator: Barry Lester PhD.

Epigenetics in Children with Prenatal Exposure to Methamphetamine 
Children with prenatal exposure to methamphetamine are at risk for poor developmental outcome due to the combination of the drug effects and environmental adversity.  In this 10-year follow up of a birth cohort from the Infant Development and Lifestyle Study (IDEAL), we are studying how prenatal methamphetamine exposure and environmental adversity result in epigenetic changes that in turn affect cognitive and behavioral outcome. Primary Investigators: Barry Lester PhDLinda LaGasse PhD.  

Epigenetics and Infant Stress Reactivity Related to Variations in Parenting
Merging the fields of epigenetics and human behavior is potentially “game changing” and provides an unprecedented opportunity to discover the molecular basis of human behavior.  Here, we are interested in the role of parenting in altering epigenetic mechanisms that could affect the infants physiological stress reactivity (cortisol) which has been shown to be related to later childhood mental and behavioral disorders. The sample includes infants followed from birth to 4 months of age. DNA of the infant from the placenta and infant neurobehavior (NNNS and cry) were collected at birth. At 4 months, DNA was collected from the infant and the quality of mother infant interaction and infant cortisol stress reactivity were measured.  We expect that results will also inform caregiving-induced signatures on the epigenome that influence infant physiological stress reactivity. Primary Investigators: Barry Lester PhD, Elizabeth Conradt PhD, Carmen Marsit PhD.

Of Mice and Methylation 
Psychotropic drugs (SRIs) are often used to treat maternal depression during depression. These drugs can affect the infant and perhaps have negative long-term consequences.  Translational research is often used to study mechanisms that cannot be studied in humans. In this study we are developing a mouse model of prenatal SSRI exposure to compare with human infant data to study epigenetic mechanisms that may be responsible for the effects of these drugs on newborn neurobehavior. Primary Investigators: Kevin Bath PhD, Barry Lester PhD.

The Neonatal Neurobehavior and Outcomes in Very Preterm Infants (NOVI)
Infants born less than 30 weeks gestational age are at high risk for developing severe impairment including cognitive, language, and behavior disorders and autism. Unfortunately, there is no method to identify which of these infants will become impaired and which will not. The purpose of the NOVI study is to follow approximately 900 infants across six sites from hospital discharge to two years of age and to determine if our neurobehavioral exam (NNNS) , medical factors and epigenetic marks, can identify infants that will be impaired by age 2.  Acoustic cry measures will also be used to help identify infants at risk for autism. Early identification can lead to interventions that can ameliorate or prevent later deficits. Primary Investigator: Barry Lester PhD.

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