There is substantial variation in people's responses to adversity, with a considerable proportion of individuals displaying psychological resilience. Epigenetic mechanisms are hypothesised to be one molecular pathway of how adverse and traumatic events can become biologically embedded and contribute to individual differences in resilience. However, not much is known regarding the role of epigenetics in the development of psychological resilience. In this Review, we propose a new conceptual model for the different functions of epigenetic mechanisms in psychological resilience. The model considers the initial establishment of the epigenome, epigenetic modification due to adverse and protective environments, the role of protective factors in counteracting adverse influences, and genetic moderation of environmentally induced epigenetic modifications. After reviewing empirical evidence for the various components of the model, we identify research that should be prioritised and discuss practical implications of the proposed model for epigenetic research on resilience.
Demelza Smeeth, Stephan Beck, Elie G Karam, Michael Pluess