Genetic and psychosocial predictors of biological aging: clinical significance for stress-related mental disorders (ZEPSOM-Bio)


Stress-related mental health problems are a leading cause of disability in most developed nations, including Canada. Exposure to early life adversities increases the risk of later-on stress-related mental health problems. However, not all children exposed to early adversity will develop a mental illness. A sensitive biological marker of vulnerability for stress-related mental health problems would help identify and treat those at the greatest risk for mental health problems associated with early adversity. The ‘epigenetic clock’ is a biological marker of aging that can be assessed in a variety of different, accessible human tissues. Epigenetic age acceleration, calculated as the difference between an individual’s age in years and predicted age based on the epigenetic clock, is associated with exposure to chronic lifetime stress and predicts a range of health outcomes. We plan to carry out the most comprehensive analysis to date of epigenetic age acceleration and its relationship with the onset and severity of stress-related mental health problems.

The large Canadian Institute of Health Research funded Zone d’Épidémiologie Psychiatrique du Sud-Ouest de Montréal (ZEPSOM) study is continuously followed-up. The ZEPSOM-Bio participants are active participants of ZEPSOM study, who agreed to participate in this study, in the continuity of ZEPSOM. This ZEPSOM-Bio study collects data on a range of characteristics potentially associated with stress-related mental health problems across a 8-year period.

The ZEPSOM-Bio is supported by the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) to build the resource of biological samples within the ZEPSOM cohort, and to estimate epigenetic age acceleration and its relationship to genetic and environmental predictors of stress-related mental illness. Findings from the ZEPSOM sample will be explored in a number of large cohorts made available through a network of national and international collaborations. This research program will also benefit from a multidisciplinary team including both new and senior investigators.

Exploited by 9 researchers and several students, ZEPSOM-Bio represents a rich pool of new knowledge for the benefit of people with mental illness. Since 2016, it develops educational opportunities and knowledge transfer mechanisms for the benefit of decision makers and knowledge users of Quebec health care system. Knowledge translation and sharing between the ZEPSOM-Bio and the health care sector are supported by a Committee of researchers and decision makers from organizations providing mental health services within the catchment area: Douglas Hospital Research Center, Ministère de la Santé et des Services Sociaux, Centres Intégrés Universitaires de Santé et Services Sociaux de l’Ouest-de-l’ile-de Montréal. Also, Knowledge translation and sharing between the ZEPSOM-Bio and experts in the field mental health area are linked with McGill University, University of British Columbia, Max-Planck Institute of Psychiatry.