The epigenetic legacy of war trauma in Kosovar for mothers and their children, and the potential beneficial effects of a family-based intervention
Dr. Shr-Jie Sharlenna Wang, Danish Institute against Torture (DIGNITY), Denmark
Dr. Feride Rushiti, Kosovar Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (KRCT), Kosovo
Dr. Sebahate Pacolli, KRCT, Kosovo
Dr. Line Hjort, Copenhagen University Hospital and The University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Dr. Aung Zaw Zaw Phyo, Monash University, Australia
Dr. Joanne Ryan, Monash University, Australia
Background: Among women who have experienced war trauma, we have previously shown that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during pregnancy, was associated with higher cortisol levels and differential DNA methylation in the children. A tailor-made family intervention, aimed at reducing these long-term effects, was implemented and evaluated in 2020-2022.
Method: The 64 mothers and their family members were together randomly assigned to an experimental group or wait-list control group. The experimental group received 10 sessions of family therapy in the first study phase, and the waitlist group in a second phase. Assessments were made of all participants at baseline, at the end of the first treatment phase, and at the end of the second phase. Questionnaires provided information about family functioning, emotional health and behavior, and blood samples were taken from mothers and children for measurement of cortisol levels and examination of DNA methylation patterns.
Results: 62 women-child dyads completed the study. After the first phase of the study, mothers in both groups had significantly reduced cortisol levels. In the children, this reduction was only found in the intervention group, showing that the intervention had altered the endocrine signaling pathways. Assessment of DNA methylation in the children also showed differences between the two groups. Pathway analysis indicated the involvement of a range of pathways involved in cellular processes, metabolism, nervous system, and environmental information processing.
Conclusion: This is the first intergenerational study to investigate the effects of a family-based intervention on cortisol levels and DNA methylation patterns in traumatized mothers and their children. This study provides preliminary evidence that tailored interventions can help to break the intergenerational transmission of effects of trauma.