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James Brody December 28th, 2010 05:34 PM

Epigenetics & Trauma
 
from Journal Watch-Psychiatry

Epigenetics is the process by which experience alters gene expression. One epigenetic mechanism is DNA methylation, which usually silences genes but sometimes turns them on.

Franklin and colleagues' study results indicate that a stressful upbringing alters methylation of multiple genes and that this alteration is passed to subsequent generations, even without relevant early experiences, in a complicated, sex-linked dynamic that modifies the stress response.

The results of the study by van IJzendoorn and colleagues might suggest that methylation status of a particular gene predisposes to unresolved loss rather than results from it. That the lower activity level of short-allele individuals experiencing early trauma or loss seems to improve resilience contradicts other research (see JW Psychiatry Jun 29 2009). Not all molecular biologists agree that DNA methylation explains the influence of early experience on biology, and there are undoubtedly additional important mechanisms yet to be identified (Nature 2010; 467:146).

At the least, the study demonstrates that altered DNA methylation occurs in people. Clinicians should consider early adverse experience in one generation as a risk factor for psychopathology in later generations.

— Steven Dubovsky, MD

Published in Journal Watch Psychiatry October 18, 2010. http://psychiatry.jwatch.org/cgi/con...ll/2010/1018/1

Citation(s):
Franklin TB et al. Epigenetic transmission of the impact of early stress across generations. Biol Psychiatry 2010 Sep 1; 68:408.

Medline abstract (Free)

van IJzendoorn MH et al. Methylation matters: Interaction between methylation density and serotonin transporter genotype predicts unresolved loss or trauma. Biol Psychiatry 2010 Sep 1; 68:405.

Medline abstract (Free)


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