Epigenetic changes present at birth - in genes related to addiction and aggression - could be linked to conduct problems in children, according to a new study by researchers at King's College London and the University of Bristol. Conduct problems (CP) such as fighting, lying, and stealing are the most common reason for child treatment referral in the UK, costing an enormous amount of money each year. Children who develop conduct problems before the age of 10 (known as early-onset CP) are at a much higher risk for severe and chronic antisocial behavior across the lifespan, resulting in further social costs related to crime, welfare dependence, and health-care needs. Genetic factors are known to strongly influence conduct problems, explaining between 50-80 per cent of the differences between children who develop problems and those who do not. However, little is known about how genetic factors interact with environmental influences - especially during fetal development - to increase the risk for later conduct problems. Understanding changes in DNA methylation, an epigenetic process that regulates how genes are “switched on and off,” could aid the development of more effective approaches to preventing later conduct problems. The study, published online on June 12, 2017, in Development & Psychopathology, used data from Bristol's Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) to examine associations between DNA methylation at birth and conduct problems from the ages of 4 to 13.
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