About Us

EpiStressNet is a new BBSRC/ESRC funded research network to investigate the roles of epigenetic mechanisms in the biological embedding of behavioural and physiological responses to stressful signals originating in the social environment, some of which are maladaptive and influence chronic disease risks.

The main aim of the network is to develop an interdisciplinary approach to this topic, which integrates:

  •      experimental research in model organisms

  •      human epidemiological research on the social determinants of health

  •      social science to identify and map the sources and impacts of psychosocial stress

  •      conceptual research which explores the social, ethical and philosophical implications of the empirical and hypothesis-driven work


The structure of social relations influences the wellbeing of human populations, and the stresses caused by social inequality are important determinants of chronic health risks.

However, the pathways which mediate or mitigate the effects of social stress on health are poorly understood.

The discovery that epigenetic processes respond to stress offers an opportunity to explore the molecular mechanisms through which social signals become biologically embedded, and thus reveal how social inequality gets "under the skin".


We aim to understand the pathways and mechanisms involved in the transformation of life experiences into epigenetic signatures and to understand the functional relevance of these signatures for gene expression, health and behaviour across the life course

Dr Vincent Cunliffe

Relevance to society

The network will prepare the ground for developing a new evidence-base that will, in the medium term, transform our understanding of how social experiences influence healthy ageing, and in the long-term will inform the development of public health strategies and policy initiatives to improve societal health and wellbeing.

EpiStressNet will;

  1. Establish a unique multidisciplinary collaborative virtual research centre that brings together biological and social scientists;
  2. Build UK research capacity, including postgraduate and early career researchers;
  3. Demonstrate proof-of-principle with small-scale experimental pilot studies;
  4. Develop new concepts and methodologies through workshops and proposals for new interdisciplinary research projects;
  5. Ensure meaningful public and stakeholder engagement with the potential policy, social and implications of this work.