Researchers at the University of British Columbia and the Child & Family Research Institute have shown that parental stress during their children's early years can leave an imprint on their sons' or daughters' genes an imprint that lasts into adolescence and may affect how these genes are expressed later in life.
The study, published online today in the journal Child Development, focused on epigenetics the expression of genes as opposed to the underlying sequence of DNA. A central component of epigenetics is methylation, in which a chemical group attaches to parts of the DNA a process that acts like a dimmer on gene function in response to social and physical environments.
Michael S. Kobor, a UBC associate professor of medical genetics, measured methylation patterns in cheek cell DNA collected recently by University of Wisconsin researchers from more than 100 adolescents. These patterns were compared to data obtained by the University of Wisconsin in 1990 and 1991, when these same children were infants and toddlers, and their parents were asked to report on their stress levels including depression, family-expressed anger, parenting stress and financial stress.
Comparing DNA methylation to stress, Kobor's team found that higher stress levels reported by mothers during their child's first year correlated with methylation levels on 139 DNA sites in adolescents. They also discovered 31 sites that correlated with fathers' higher reported stress during their child's pre-school years (three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half years old).
"To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration, using carefully collected longitudinal data, that parental adversity during a child's first years leads to discernible changes in his or her 'epigenome,' measurable more than a decade later," says Kobor, a scientist at the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics at the Child and Family Research Institute (CFRI), and a Mowafaghian Sch
|Contact: Brian Kladko|
University of British Columbia