Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New research shows childhood adversity causes changes in genetics

In a look at how major stressors during childhood can change a person's biological risk for psychiatric disorders, researchers at Butler Hospital have discovered a genetic alteration at the root of the association.

The research, published online in PLoS ONE on January 25, 2012, suggests that childhood adversity may lead to epigenetic changes in the human glucocorticoid receptor gene, an important regulator of the biological stress response that may increase risk for psychiatric disorders.

The association between childhood adversity, including parental loss and childhood maltreatment, and risk for psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety has been established in multiple studies. However, researchers have yet to define how and why this association exists in humans. "We need to understand the biology of this effect in order to develop better treatment and prevention programs," said Audrey Tyrka, MD, PhD, director of the Laboratory for Clinical and Translational Neuroscience at Butler Hospital and associate professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University. "Our research group turned to the field of epigenetics to determine how environmental conditions in childhood can influence the biological stress response."

Epigenetics is the study of changes to the genome that do not alter the DNA sequence, but influence whether genes will be expressed, or "turned on," versus whether they will be silenced. Knowing that the connection between childhood maltreatment and psychiatric disorders has been linked to the hormone system that coordinates biological stress responses, the researchers sought to identify the root cause at a genetic level.

The glucocorticoid receptor is an important regulator of the stress response, and methylation is a particularly stable type of epigenetic modification. "We knew that epigenetic changes to this gene could be affected by childhood parenting experiences because previous animal research showed that rodents with low levels of maternal care had increased methylation of this gene, and consequently, as adults these animals had greater stress sensitivity and fear in stressful situations," said Tyrka.

The researchers looked at 99 healthy adults, some of whom had a history of parental loss or childhood maltreatment. DNA was extracted from each of the participants using a blood sample, then analyzed to identify epigenetic changes to the glucocorticoid receptor. The researchers then performed a standardized hormone provocation test to measure the stress hormone, cortisol.

The researchers found that adults with a history of childhood adversity—maltreatment or parental loss—had increased methylation of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) gene, which is thought to change the way this gene is expressed on a long-term basis. They also found that greater methylation was linked to blunted cortisol responses to the hormone provocation test. "Our results suggest that exposure to stressful experiences during childhood may actually alter the programming of an individual's genome. This concept may have broad public health implications, as it could be a mechanism for the association of childhood trauma with poor health outcomes, including psychiatric disorders as well as medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease," said Tyrka.

In early studies of animals, researchers have identified drugs that can reverse methylation effects. "More research is needed to better understand the epigenetic mechanism behind this association," said Tyrka, noting a larger scale study currently underway at Butler and a study of this association in children. "This line of research may allow us to better understand who is most at risk and why, and may allow for the development of treatments that could reverse epigenetic effects of childhood adversity."

Butler Hospital is the only private, nonprofit psychiatric and substance abuse hospital serving adults, adolescents and children in Rhode Island and southeastern New England. Founded in 1844, it was the first hospital in Rhode Island and has earned a reputation as the leading provider of innovative psychiatric treatments in the region. The flagship hospital for the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Butler is recognized worldwide as a pioneer in conducting cutting-edge research.

Holly Brown-Ayers | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>