Parenting can be stressful – and this stress may be influencing the DNA methylation of African American mothers, finds a new study led by NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing published in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Science.

Stress can contribute to a range of health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease – health issues that are particularly pervasive among African American women. The stress that parents feel in their roles adds to overall maternal stress levels, which can influence health outcomes for mothers and their children.

In seeking to understand the biological consequences of stress, researchers have learned that stress is associated with altered DNA methylation, a mechanism that is used to control gene expression (often “turning on” or “off” a gene). Epigenetic changes like DNA methylation do not change the sequence of DNA, but by altering gene expression can contribute to a variety of disease outcomes.

“Raising children is inevitably stressful. We wanted to see if parenting stress influences DNA methylation,” said Jacquelyn Taylor, PhD, PNP-BC, RN, FAHA, FAAN, the Vernice D. Ferguson Professor in Health Equity at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and the study’s senior author.

The current study examined the relationship between parenting stress and DNA methylation among African American mothers and their children using data from the Intergenerational Impact of Genetic and Psychological Factors on Blood Pressure, an ongoing study funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research.

Seventy-four pairs of African American mothers and their children took part in the study for a total of 148 participants. Parenting stress among mothers was measured using the 36-question Parenting Stress Index, and DNA methylation was measured using saliva samples from both mothers and children.

The researchers found that more than 95 CpG sites – or regions on the genome where DNA methylation…

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Mayra Rodriguez

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