Biological embedding of experience: A primer on epigenetics

Maria J. Aristizabal, Ina Anreiter, Thorhildur Halldorsdottir, Candice L. Odgers, Thomas W. McDade, Anna Goldenberg, Sara Mostafavi, Michael S. Kobor, Elisabeth B. Binder, Marla B. Sokolowski*, Kieran J. O'Donnell*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations


Biological embedding occurs when life experience alters biological processes to affect later life health and well-being. Although extensive correlative data exist supporting the notion that epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation underlie biological embedding, causal data are lacking. We describe specific epigenetic mechanisms and their potential roles in the biological embedding of experience. We also consider the nuanced relationships between the genome, the epigenome, and gene expression. Our ability to connect biological embedding to the epigenetic landscape in its complexity is challenging and complicated by the influence of multiple factors. These include cell type, age, the timing of experience, sex, and DNA sequence. Recent advances in molecular profiling and epigenome editing, combined with the use of comparative animal and human longitudinal studies, should enable this field to transition from correlative to causal analyses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23261-23269
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number38
StatePublished - Sep 22 2020


  • Biological embedding of experience
  • Epigenetic mechanisms
  • Epigenome
  • Gene-environment interplay
  • Translational research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Biological embedding of experience: A primer on epigenetics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this