Early-life adversities, whether prenatal or postnatal exposure, have been linked to adverse mental health outcomes later in life increasing the risk of several psychiatric disorders. Research on its neurobiological consequences demonstrated an association between exposure to adversities and persistent alterations in the structure, function, and connectivity of the brain. Consistent evidence supports the idea that regulation of gene expression through epigenetic mechanisms are involved in embedding the impact of early-life experiences in the genome and mediate between social environments and later behavioral phenotypes. In addition, studies from rodent models and humans suggest that these experiences and the acquired risk factors can be transmitted through epigenetic mechanisms to offspring and the following generations potentially contributing to a cycle of disease or disease risk. However, one of the important aspects of epigenetic mechanisms, unlike genetic sequences that are fixed and unchangeable, is that although the epigenetic markings are long-lasting, they are nevertheless potentially reversible. In this review, we summarize our current understanding of the epigenetic mechanisms involved in the mental health consequences derived from early-life exposure to malnutrition, maltreatment and poverty, adversities with huge and pervasive impact on mental health. We also discuss the evidence about transgenerational epigenetic inheritance in mammals and experimental data suggesting that suitable social and pharmacological interventions could reverse adverse epigenetic modifications induced by early-life negative social experiences. In this regard, these studies must be accompanied by efforts to determine the causes that promote these adversities and that result in health inequity in the population.

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