How Do Interactions Between Early Caregiving Environment and Genes Influence Health and Behavior?

To promote optimal health and behavioral outcomes in children, nurses have long supported parents in providing the best possible care and nurturance to their offspring. A growing body of neuroscience research argues convincingly for the combined influences of genes and early caregiving on producing an individual’s unique health and behavioral phenotype. In this article, we systematically review studies that demonstrate the relationship between qualities of early caregiving and genetic propensity to health and behavioral outcomes. From an initial set of 255 articles, 24 articles met our inclusion criteria. The outcomes fall into four distinct groups: hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) response to stress, externalizing behavior, internalizing behavior, and disorganized attachment. In the articles, authors examined genes that code for the 5-hydroxy tryptamine (serotonin) transporter genes linked polymorphic region [5-HTTLPR] serotonin transporter promoter, D4 dopamine receptor, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and monoamine oxidase A promoter. The reviewed studies suggest that the effect of the early rearing environment on gene expression relates mainly to HPA response to stress, whereas interactions between genes and caregiving mainly relate to behavior and attachment. Findings have implications for nurses focused on advocacy, prevention, and intervention to support the healthy development of children in families faced with adversity.
Article deposited according to publisher policies: Article DOI 10.1177/1099800412463602
Epigenetics, Gene expression, Gene-by-Environment interactions, Early rearing environments, Attachment
Letourneau, N., Giesbrecht, G.F., Joschko, J., Bernier, F. (2014). How do interactions between early caregiving environment and genes influence health and behavior? Biological Research for Nursing, 16(1; January), 83-94