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Exploring the epigenetic impact of stress

A new King’s College London study will explore the epigenetic impact of stress following a funding award from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Overall £3m of funding has been awarded by the BBSRC and ESRC to eight new projects at six universities - all of which will investigate the impact of early life experiences for health outcomes throughout the lifespan. 

Evidence shows that experiences in early life are linked to health and behavioural outcomes in the future, but the ways in which these experiences become embedded are not fully understood. 

Epigenetic research allows researchers to look at the underlying factors of diverse human responses to environmental signals. The funded projects will look broadly into the field, but will also look at practical ways to prevent adverse effects of certain situations on future health and wellbeing.
The study at King’s will investigate epigenetic differences within 100 genetically identical twin pairs who have been exposed to different levels of psychosocial stress during adolescence.

Dr Chloe Wong, Lecturer in Epigenetics at the MRC Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry Centre (MRC SGDP), Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), is Principal Investigator on the project. She said: ‘I feel extremely privileged to have received this prestigious award from the BBSRC and ESRC. By looking at identical twins from the British Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, who also share family environment as well as age and gender, we hope to ascertain the ‘purer’ impact of psychosocial stress on epigenetic signatures. In addition, by using repeated assessments over time (i.e. before and after exposure to stress) we will be able to explore changes that occur within the same child rather than simply comparing one child to another.

‘We are very excited about this interdisciplinary project and believe that the findings from this study will shed light on how biological systems operate under environmental challenge. This research has the potential to further advance our understanding of how to improve health and wellbeing through early detection of the biological impact of psychosocial stress exposure.’

Notes to editors

For further media information please contact Jack Stonebridge, Press Officer, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London on +44 (0) 20 7848 5377 or

The study - ‘Epigenetic trajectories of biological response to adolescent psychosocial stress: A novel longitudinal study of discordant monozygotic twins’ - has received £493,270 of funding and will begin in December 2015.