Childhood maltreatment (CM) is often associated with an increased vulnerability to several mental and physical diseases later in life, since it occurs in a critical phase for the devolopment of the brain and the entire organism, characterized by high plasticity and sensitivity to environmental stimuli. In the last few years, biological research has addressed the study of the molecular alterations correlated to the effects of maltreatment and traumatic experiences in children, revealing the crucial role played by epigenetic modifications, such as DNA methylation, able to reprogram many genes involved in mechanisms of stress response and resilience and in the functionality of neurotransmitter systems. Moreover, microRNAs (important regulators of gene expression) have been implicated in the detrimental effects of CM, together with inflammatory processes. The clarification of these mechanisms is fundamental for the comprehension of long-term alterations caused by CM and for the development of innovative interventions, both preventive and therapeutic.
Keywords: Childhood maltreatment, epigenetics, microRNA, inflammation