Child Maltreatment Solutions Network at Penn State

Epigenetic and Cognitive Aging Project (ECAP)

Epigenetic and Cognitive Aging Project (ECAP)

eCAP (Shenk, PI; O’Donnell, Sliwinski, Ram, and Noll, Co-I’s) is supported by an NIH award (R01AG059682) examining the impact of child maltreatment on epigenetic age acceleration, a cross-tissue index of the biological aging of cells that is derived from DNA methylation across the genome and has added explanatory power of adulthood health beyond chronological age. This project will first examine epigenetic age acceleration and its relation to mid-life cognitive function in the Female Growth and Development Study (FGDS), a 30-year prospective cohort study of the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse. The FGDS cohort also provides an unprecedented opportunity to test the mediational properties of glucocorticoid remodeling occurring over the 20 years following exposure to substantiated child sexual abuse on epigenetic age acceleration as well as the risks associated with epigenetic age acceleration and a comprehensive assessment of cognitive function at mid-life. Once statistical models of epigenetic age acceleration and cognitive outcomes are developed using data from the FGDS discovery cohort, they will be exported for replication in independent, international cohorts to extend models to more diverse samples, including older ages and alternative cognitive outcomes (e.g. mild cognitive impairment). Results will inform precision-based efforts at preventing, delaying, or reversing the onset of various cognitive aging outcomes across different points of the lifespan.

CMT32 Fellows have the opportunity to examine a variety of epigenetic age acceleration estimates and their relation to a host of developmental and cognitive function outcomes with the existing data collected in this project

Research Team

Profile photo for Chad Shenk, Ph.D.
Chad Shenk, Ph.D.


Department of Human Development and Family Studies /

Department of Pediatrics (Joint Appointment)