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 adversitymaltreatment or parental losshad 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."
|Contact: Holly Brown-Ayers|