Areas of Specialization
Epigenetics of early life adversity, developmental origins of health and disease, biomarkers of stress and disadvantage, racial disparities in complex disease, social determinants of health, human evolutionary and population genetics


Biological Embedding of Stress in Children of Mexican Immigrants.
Our lab has investigated the stress experiences of children of Mexican-born immigrants living in Nashville and San Diego. The goal of the first project was to determine how stress among immigrant children may become biologically embedded to predispose them to higher rates of cardiometabolic disease later in life. This project was a 3 year study funded by the Foundation for Child Development (2014). The specific aims of the study are twofold: 1) To test and refine hypotheses about biological pathways of embedding of stress in Hispanic immigrant children by specifically investigating dysregulation of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis and of the cardiometabolic system in relation to early life stressors; and 2) To examine whether some classes of stressors are more potent than others in dysregulating these processes. In collaboration with Kimberly D’Anna Hernandez, we have also investigated effects of stress and changes in mental health following the Trump election and during the pandemic in a birth cohort of Latina mothers and children born in Northern San Diego County.

Collaborators: Nanibaa’ Garrison, Gabriela Leon-Perez, Kimberly D’Anna Hernandez, Sandraluz Lara-Cinisomo

Relevant Publications:

  1. Non, A.L.. Clausing, E.S., D’Anna Hernandez, K.L.  Changes in sociocultural stressors, protective factors, and mental health for US Latina mothers in a shifting political climate. PLOS ONE. 2022;17(8);e0273548
  2. D’Anna Hernandez, K, Lara-Cinisomo, S., Non, A.L. Changes in mental health symptoms and sociocultural factors across the COVID-19 pandemic in mothers of Mexican descent. Archives of Women’s Mental Health. 2023.
  3. Leon-Perez, G., Richards, C. Non, AL.  Precarious Work and Parenting Stress Among Mexican Immigrant Women in the US. Journal of Marriage and Family.
  4. Clausing, E. S., Binder, A. M., & Non, A. L. (2021). Epigenetic age associates with psychosocial stress and resilience in children of Latinx immigrants. Epigenomics. doi:10.2217/epi-2019-0343.
  5. Non AL, León-Pérez G, Glass H, Kelly E , Garrison NA. Stress across generations: A qualitative study of stress, coping, and caregiving among Mexican immigrant mothers. Ethn Health . 2019;24(4):378‐394. doi:10.1080/13557858.2017.1346184
  6. Oelsner KT, Guo Y, Bao-Chieu S, Non A, Barkin S.  Maternal BMI as a predictor of methylation of obesity-related genes in saliva samples from preschool-age Hispanic children at-risk for obesity. BMC Genomics. 18(1):57.
Epigenetics in the Bucharest Early Intervention Project
I have been involved in an interdisciplinary project with collaborators at Tulane, University of Maryland, and Harvard, to understand how early life exposure to stress may alter the epigenome in ways that may ultimately lead to poor health consequences in adulthood. Epigenetics is the study of processes, such as DNA methylation, that modify patterns of gene expression without altering the underlying DNA sequence. Epigenetic mechanisms are especially relevant for understanding early origins of adult health and disease, because they link environmental exposures with potentially long-term changes in gene expression. With a seed grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, I explored levels of methylation in a number of stress-response genes in cheek cells from children raised in orphanages relative to those raised in foster care settings in Bucharest, Romania. In this on-going longitudinal study, children under 30 months of age were randomized into foster care placement and are being compared with those who continued care in institutions. The psychosocial deprivation and neglect of institutional rearing has shown to have long lasting effects on social development, mental health, and cognitive and neural development. This study provides a unique opportunity to explore the association between this extreme form of early childhood deprivation and DNA methylation changes over time.

Relevant Publications:
Non, AL, Hollister, BM, Humphreys KL, Childebayeva A, Esteves, K, Zeanah, C, Fox, NA, Nelson, CA, Drury, SS. DNA methylation at stress-related genes associated with exposure to early life institutionalization. American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

DNA Methylation, Stress, and Depression During Pregnancy
I have also worked with colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital on a project to understand epigenetic consequences of early life exposure to stress and depression, in utero. With two seed grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, I have explored levels of methylation for three stress-response genes and a genome-wide repetitive element in and around the placenta. I have also worked on a project to detect genome wide changes in methylation status associated with exposure to maternal depression and antidepressant medications during pregnancy.

Relevant Publications

  1. Non, A.L., Binder, A.M., Barault, L., Rancourt, R.C., Kubzansky, L.D., & Michels, K.B. (2011). DNA methylation of stress-related genes and LINE-1 repetitive elements across the healthy human placenta. Placenta, 33, 183-187.
  2. Non AL, Binder AM, Kubzansky LD, Michels KB. (2014). Whole-genome methylation analysis of fetal exposure to maternal depression/anxiety and antidepressant use during pregnancy.  Epigenetics 9(7):964-972.
  3. Rewak M., Buka S., Prescott J., De Vivo I., Loucks E., Kawachi I., Non A., Kubzansky L. Race-Related Health Disparities and Biological Aging: Does Rate of Telomere Shortening Differ Across Blacks and Whites? Biological Psychology. 2014 Mar 29; 99C:92-99[Epub ahead of print].

Stress and Cardiometabolic Biomarkers
I have also been exploring a range of cardiometabolic biomarkers that may be affected by psychosocial stress in childhood and in adulthood. This research is motivated by the observation that psychosocial stress is often associated with poor health outcomes, even after accounting for variation in health behaviors, indicating a role for other direct biological mechanisms. To investigate these mechanisms, I utilized cross-sectional data from the Health Professional Follow-Up Study (HPFS) to explore how measures of social support and stress at work and at home associate with a range of biomarkers across a number of physiological systems, including cardiovascular, inflammatory, endothelial function, and immune response. The HPFS is an ongoing cohort study of men’s health established in 1986 by the Harvard School of Public Health. One interesting finding suggests that stress at work is more important than stress at home for predicting elevated measures of endothelial dysfunction in men. I am also currently investigating the effect of early life social disadvantage on cardiometabolic markers and chronic disease in adulthood using data from the ongoing longitudinal National Collaborative Perinatal Project.

Collaborators: Laura Kubzansky, Ichiro Kawachi, Stephen Gilman, David Williams, Stephen Buka, Eric Loucks, Eric Rimm, Allison Appleton, Natalie Slopen

Relevant Publications

  1. Non AL, Román JC, Clausing ES, et al. Optimism and Social Support Predict Healthier Adult Behaviors Despite Socially Disadvantaged Childhoods. Int J Behav Med. 2020;27(2):200‐212. doi:10.1007/s12529-020-09849-w.
  2. Slopen N, Loucks EB, Appleton AA, Kawachi I, Kubzansky LD, Non AL, Buka S, Gilman SE. 2015. Early origins of inflammation: An examination of prenatal and childhood social adversity in a prospective cohort study. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 51:403-413
  3. Slopen N, Non A, Williams DR, Roberts AL, Albert MA. 2014. Childhood adversity, adult neighborhood context, and cumulative biological risk for chronic diseases in adulthood. Psychosomatic medicine 76(7):481-489.
  4. Non AL, Rewak M, Kawachi I., Gilman S., Loucks E, Appleton A., Roman J.C., Buka S, Kubzansky L. (2014). Childhood social disadvantage, cardiometabolic risk, and chronic disease in adulthood. Am J of Epidemiology.
  5. Non AL, Rimm EB, Kawachi I, Rewak MA, Kubzansky LD (2014). The Effects of Stress at Work and at Home on Inflammation and Endothelial Dysfunction. PLoS ONE 9(4): e94474. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094474

Integrating methods from social and biological sciences, colleagues at the University of Florida and I have been working to understand the role of genetic ancestry and cultural classification of race in the development of blood pressure in Southeastern Puerto Rico. We have analyzed genetic data(candidate genes and ancestry informative markers and sociocultural data (measures of race, discrimination, SES, etc) in order to simultaneously test for the contribution of genetic and environmental factors to risk of hypertension. We have also examined the role of genetic ancestry relative to education, in predicting blood pressure variation among African Americans and Whites in the Familial Blood Pressure Program Study. This work was supported by an NSF grant BCS-0820687, entitled “Genetic ancestry, race and health disparities: A biocultural approach,” Connie Mulligan (PI).

Collaborators: Connie Mulligan, Lance Gravlee, Jessica Cerdeña, Vanessa Grubbs

Relevant Publications

  1. Cerdeña, J.P., Grubbs, V., Non, A.L. Racialising genetic risk: assumptions, realties, and recommendations. The Lancet.
  2. Cerdeña, J.P., Grubbs, V., Non, A.L. Genomic supremacy: the harm of conflating genetic ancestry and race. Human Genomics, 16, 18. May 2022.
  3. Grubbs, V., Cerdeña, J.P., Non, A.L. The misuse of race in the search for disease-causing alleles. Lancet (2022) Mar 19; 399(10330):1110:1111. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(22)00488-3.
  4. Non, A.L., Gravlee, C.C., & Mulligan, C.J. (2012). Education, genetic ancestry, and blood pressure in African Americans and Whites. American Journal of Public Health 
  5. Non, A.L., Gravlee, C.C., & Mulligan, C.J. (2010). Questioning the importance of genetic ancestry as a contributor to preterm delivery and related traits in African American women. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 202, e12; author reply e12-13.
  6. Gravlee, C.C., Non, A.L., & Mulligan, C.J. (2009). Genetic ancestry, social classification, and racial inequalities in blood pressure in Southeastern Puerto Rico. PLoS One, 4, e6821.

Human Evolutionary History
I have worked with colleagues at the University of Florida to understand the evolutionary history of populations around the Red Sea Region, which is an important region for the emergence of anatomically modern humans out of Africa, and also for more recent evolutionary history. Using genetic data from the mitochondrial genome, as well as nuclear autosomal variants and sex chromosomes, we have analyzed the evolution and relationships among Jewish populations in Ethiopia and Yemen. We have also analzed non-Jewishpopulations in these two regions to determine the origin and direction of migrations across the Red Sea along the Southern Dispersal Route out of Africa. This work was supported by NSF grant BCS-0518530, entitled “Human dispersals out of Africa: Mitochondrial and Y chromosomal genetic analysis of Eritrean and Omani populations” (PI: Connie Mulligan).

Relevant Publications

  1. Non, A.L., Al-Meeri, A., Raaum, R.L., Sanchez, L.F., & Mulligan, C.J. (2011). Mitochondrial DNA reveals distinct evolutionary histories for Jewish populations in Yemen and Ethiopia. Am J Phys Anthropol, 144, 1-10.
  2. Černý, V, Mulligan CJ, Fernandes V, Silva NM, Alshamali F, Non A, Harich N, Cherni L, El Gaaied AB, Al-Meeri A, and Pereira L (2011) Internal diversification of mitochondrial haplogroup R0a reveals post-last glacial maximum demographic expansions in South Arabia. Mol Biol Evol 28:71-8.
  3. Al-Meeri, A., Non, A.L., Lajoie, T.W., & Mulligan, C.J. (2011). Effect of different sampling strategies for a single geographic region in Yemen on standard genetic analyses of mitochondrial DNA sequence data. Mitochondrial DNA, 22, 66-70.
  4. Cerny, V., Mulligan, C.J., Fernandes, V., Silva, N.M., Alshamali, F., Non, A., et al. (2011). Internal diversification of mitochondrial haplogroup R0a reveals post-last glacial maximum demographic expansions in South Arabia. Mol Biol Evol, 28, 71-78.
  5. Non, A.L., Kitchen, A., & Mulligan, C.J. (2007). Identification of the most informative regions of the mitochondrial genome for phylogenetic and coalescent analyses. Mol Phylogenet Evol, 44, 1164-1171.