Genetic and environmental factors shape resiliency and vulnerability to psychiatric disorders, as in other complex inheritance diseases. Recent studies show that environmental factors can exert their effects through epigenetic modifications, such as DNA methylation, affecting expression level of crucial genes. Pre- and postnatal environment (e.g. maternal diet, stress, early care) in critical periods of development can lead to long-lasting effects in the offspring, possibly to prepare the individual for the anticipated environment. Assessing epigenetic changes leading to psychiatric disorders has been limited to date, because epigenetic modifications are tissue-specific, and only postmortem studies could use brain tissues. However, with genome-wide analyses it became possible to discover similarities of epigenetic changes in different tissues. DNA methylation pattern of certain gene regions could be concordant in the brain and accessible cells (e.g. leukocytes or buccal cells). I have been studying genetic factors in the development of psychiatric disorders, and I plan to include epigenetic markers in my future projects. I could acquire first-hand knowledge of epigenetics by carrying out a research project assessing the impact of prenatal maternal depression and care-giving quality on epigenetic modification. Specific aims of the outgoing phase are to (1) confirm microarray-derived DNA methylation patterns of selected genes in the brain and T lymphocytes, (2) develop a high-throughput method for a panel of informative epigenetic markers in T cells, and (3) assess the usability of saliva and buccal samples. The successful application of non-invasive sample collection would greatly promote epigenetic analyses in large-scale, population-based studies. In the return phase the project would allow me to apply these new methods in national and international collaborative projects, complement my skills in psychogenetics and establish an epigenetic section in the laboratory.
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