Epigenetic Age Acceleration and Risk for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder following Exposure to Substantiated Child Maltreatment

Objective: Child maltreatment is among the strongest predictors of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, less than 40% of children who have been maltreated are ever diagnosed with PTSD, suggesting that exposure to child maltreatment alone is insufficient to explain this risk. This study examined whether epigenetic age acceleration, a stress-sensitive biomarker derived from DNA methylation, explains variation in PTSD diagnostic status subsequent to child maltreatment. Method: Children and adolescents (N = 70; 65.7% female), 8–15 years of age (M = 12.00, SD = 2.37) and exposed to substantiated child maltreatment within the 12 months prior to study entry, were enrolled. Participants provided epithelial cheek cells via buccal swab for genotyping and quantification of epigenetic age acceleration within a case-control design. PTSD diagnostic status was determined using the Child PTSD Symptoms Scale according to the DSM-IV-TR algorithm. Results: Epigenetic age acceleration predicted current PTSD status, revealing an effect size magnitude in the moderate range, OR = 2.35, 95% CI: 1.22– 4.51, after adjusting for sample demographics, polygenic risk for PTSD, and lifetime exposure to other childhood adversities. Supplemental analyses demonstrated that epigenetic age acceleration was related to a greater severity of PTSD arousal symptoms (r =.29, p =.015). There were no differential effects for child maltreatment subtype on epigenetic age acceleration or PTSD status. Conclusions: The biological embedding of child maltreatment may explain variation in PTSD diagnostic status and serve as a novel approach for informing selective prevention or precision-based therapeutics for those at risk for PTSD.

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology on 2021-01-20, available online: https://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/15374416.2020.1864738.



Work Title Epigenetic Age Acceleration and Risk for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder following Exposure to Substantiated Child Maltreatment
Open Access
  1. Chad E. Shenk
  2. Kieran J. O’Donnell
  3. Irina Pokhvisneva
  4. Michael S. Kobor
  5. Michael J. Meaney
  6. Heather E. Bensman
  7. Elizabeth K. Allen
  8. Anneke E. Olson
License CC BY-NC 4.0 (Attribution-NonCommercial)
Work Type Article
  1. Journal of clinical child psychology
Publication Date January 1, 2021
Publisher Identifier (DOI)
  1. https://doi.org/10.1080/15374416.2020.1864738
Deposited January 27, 2023




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Work History

Version 1

  • Created
  • Added Revised_Full_Document_-_Epigenetic_age_and_PTSD.docx
  • Added Creator Chad E. Shenk
  • Added Creator Kieran J. O’Donnell
  • Added Creator Irina Pokhvisneva
  • Added Creator Michael S. Kobor
  • Added Creator Michael J. Meaney
  • Added Creator Heather E. Bensman
  • Added Creator Elizabeth K. Allen
  • Added Creator Anneke E. Olson
  • Published