In this episode of the Epigenetics Podcast, we caught up with Catherine Jensen Peña from Princeton University to talk about her work on early life stress and its effects on behavior.

The Laboratory of Catherine Peña focuses on how early life experiences are encoded and maintained into adulthood, with a long-lasting impact on behavior. Recent work showed, that child maltreatment and other forms of early life stress increase the lifetime risk of depression and other mood, anxiety, and drug disorders by 2-4 fold. The Peña Lab uses genome wide approaches to investigate key brain regions with a two-hit stress model.

Using RNA-Seq, the Peña Lab has shown that depression-like gene expression patterns are programmed by early life stress, similar to observations in mice exhibiting depression-like behavior after adult stress and are visible even before behavioral changes. Furthermore, latent and unique transcriptional responses to adult stress among a subset of genes is programmed by early life stress. The role of chromatin modifications in regulating these processes are investigated using state of the art technologies like Mod-Spec or ATAC-Seq.



  • Kronman, H., Torres-Berrío, A., Sidoli, S., Issler, O., Godino, A., Ramakrishnan, A., Mews, P., Lardner, C. K., Parise, E. M., Walker, D. M., van der Zee, Y. Y., Browne, C. J., Boyce, B. F., Neve, R., Garcia, B. A., Shen, L., Peña, C. J., & Nestler, E. J. (2021). Long-term behavioral and cell-type-specific molecular effects of early life stress are mediated by H3K79me2 dynamics in medium spiny neurons. Nature Neuroscience, 24(5), 667–676.

  • Peña, C. J., Smith, M., Ramakrishnan, A., Cates, H. M., Bagot, R. C., Kronman, H. G., Patel, B., Chang, A. B., Purushothaman, I., Dudley, J., Morishita, H., Shen, L., & Nestler, E. J. (2019). Early life stress alters transcriptomic patterning across reward circuitry in male and female mice. Nature Communications, 10(1), 5098.

  • Peña, C. J., Kronman, H. G., Walker, D. M., Cates, H. M., Bagot, R. C., Purushothaman, I., Issler, O., Loh, Y.-H. E., Leong, T., Kiraly, D. D., Goodman, E., Neve, R. L., Shen, L., & Nestler, E. J. (2017). Early life stress confers lifelong stress susceptibility in mice via ventral tegmental area OTX2. Science, 356(6343), 1185–1188.


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