Child Abuse Leaves Its Mark on Victim’s DNA

February 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

Mind & Brain / Mental Health – Top 100 Stories of 2009 #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.
by Amy Barth

From the January-February special issue; published online December 28, 2009
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. http://discovermagazine.com/2010/jan-feb/061

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