The epigenetics of child language

PhD project (3/4 yr research project leading to independent research at the doctorate level)

Gemma Sharp, James Law (Newcastle), Yvonne Wren (Bristol), Cristina McKean (Newcastle)

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Oral Language skills are essential to everyday life. Most children acquire them effortlessly but some are “language impaired”. It is currently unclear what causes this variability between individuals, but it is likely to arise due to a complex interplay of (largely unknown) genetic factors and environmental factors such as socioeconomic status, book reading and aspects of the home learning environment. Epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation could also be involved in language development, potentially mediating early-life environmental influences and language outcomes. Furthermore, by capturing information on genetics and environmental exposures, epigenetic data might provide a useful biomarker to predict individual variation in language outcomes.

Aims & objectives

The project aims to explore the involvement of DNA methylation in the development of language skills in children.


1) Using data from ALSPAC, conduct epigenome-wide association studies (EWAS) to identify associations between DNA methylation at birth and childhood and language outcomes in children
2) Co-ordinate and conduct a meta-analysis of EWAS results from several international cohorts to attempt to replicate results from ALSPAC
3) Use bioinformatics to interpret EWAS and meta-EWAS results and explore gene function
4) Use genetic data and Mendelian randomization (through MR-Base) to assess causality in associations between environmental factors such as book reading, DNA methylation and language outcomes
5) Develop and test the efficacy of DNA methylation as a biomarker to predict language outcomes


Created on April 29, 2017, 4:49 p.m.

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