Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Health

#61: Child Abuse Leaves Its Mark on Victim’s DNA

The brains of people who were abused as children and then commit suicide show DNA modifications that made them particularly sensitive to stress.

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Childhood trauma may leave a lasting imprint not just on the psyche but also in the DNA. This news comes from McGill University and the Suicide Brain Bank, a Quebec-based organization that carried out autopsies on suicide victims who had been abused as kids. Across the board, their brains showed DNA modifications that made them particularly sensitive to stress. Although gene variations are primarily inherited at conception, the findings show that environmental impacts can also introduce them later on. “The idea that abuse changes how genes function opens a new window for behavioral and drug therapy,” says study leader and neuroscientist Patrick McGowan.

During periods of adversity, the brain triggers release of cortisol, a hormone responsible for the fight-or-flight response. Due to differential gene expression associated with stress, the brains of child-abuse victims had lower levels of glucocorticoid receptors, McGowan found. Cortisol normally binds to these receptors; with fewer of them present, there is more cortisol and less resilience to feelings of stress.

In his study, McGowan reviewed medical records and police reports and interviewed family members to determine whether a subject was abused early in life. He then examined the subjects’ brain tissues and found that among those who had been abused, glucocorticoid-receptor expression was reduced by 40 percent. “If we can identify how these changes occur, we can identify those at high risk and ultimately find ways to treat them,” McGowan says.

2 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In