Both history of early-life stress (ELS) and female sex are associated with increased risk for depression. The complexity of how ELS interacts with brain development and sex to impart risk for multifaceted neuropsychiatric disorders is also unlikely to be understood by examining changes in single genes. Here, we review an emerging literature on genome-wide transcriptional and epigenetic signatures of ELS and the potential moderating influence of sex. We discuss evidence both that there are latent sex differences revealed by ELS and that ELS itself produces latent transcriptomic changes revealed by adult stress. In instances where there are broad similarities in global signatures of ELS among females and males, genes that contribute to these patterns are largely distinct based on sex. As this area of investigation grows, an effort should be made to better understand the sex-specific impact of ELS within the human brain, specific contributions of chromosomal versus hormonal sex, how ELS alters the time course of normal transcriptional development, and the cell-type specificity of transcriptomic and epigenomic changes in the brain. A better understanding of how ELS interacts with sex to alter transcriptomic and epigenomic signatures in the brain will inform individualized therapeutic strategies to prevent or ameliorate depression and other psychiatric disorders in this vulnerable population.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biological Psychiatry
- Childhood adversity
- Early-life stress
- Sex differences