Child Abuse Leads to Lifelong Changes in the Genes

Feb 24, 2009
Childhood abuse seems to cause lifelong changes in the brain damaging genes that are responsible for stress response.

The study conducted at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, McGill University in Montreal and the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences showed that suicide victims with a history of childhood abuse have changes in DNA expression.

Scientists analyzed 36 brain samples of people to find if child abuse can cause such long-term changes as gene damage. One group of people who died from suicide had a history of childhood abuse, the other suicide group had no history of child abuse and the control group died from other causes. The findings showed that people who were abused as children had expression of the NC3R1 gene altered.

It is known that early childhood experience play a major role on person's life. Previous studies showed that child abuse puts its victims at increased risk of suicide due to the changes that occur in the part of the brain that deals with stress. The new study shows that environmental factors such as childhood abuse damages gene expression, which impairs the function of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the way a person responds to stress. Inability to deal with stress often affects behavior and may lead to suicide.

Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis makes a part of the neuroendocrine system that deals with a response to stress. Earlier, it was discovered that maternal care influences the HPA function in the brain that affects child's behavior later in life.