Home > Genetics > Does Mental Stress or Abuse Cause Changes to DNA?

Does Mental Stress or Abuse Cause Changes to DNA?

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 20 Feb 2013 | comments*Discuss
 
Dna Childhood Abuse Changes Adult

Mental stress and abuse are horrific to anyone who experiences them, but new research suggests that they can even cause changes to DNA.

A study in Canada looked at the brains of suicide victims who had histories of abuse. They found that the DNA in these individuals showed changes that we would not normally see in suicide victims who had not been abused.

Looking at Older Research

In older studies in this field, we had already discovered that child abuse and neglect can change a person's hormonal stress response. We also know that it can raise the chance of the victim committing suicide.

Bringing Research Forward

The new research involved researchers looking at samples of the brains of people who had died by suicide. These people all had histories of abuse. Researchers focused in on the area of the brain known as the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a part of the brain that's very important in controlling our response to stressful situations.

During the study, the researchers found that there were some marked changes in gene expression. There was one gene in particular that showed changes in those who had been abused versus suicide victims who never experienced abuse during childhood. In fact, the changes weren't even seen in people who had died from non-suicide causes.

Different Brain Markers

Specifically, the researchers found that those who had been victims of childhood abuse had different markers in the area of the brain that involves a stress response known to increase the risk of suicide. These 'epigenetic' markers on DNA also correlate to earlier studies from last year on childhood abuse.

It is the combination of the environment and DNA that ultimately affects our ability to handle and repel against stress and suicide. The epigenetic markers are a result of our DNA and environment. Interestingly enough though, epigenetic marks can also be treated in an adult through manipulation of the DNA coating, which essentially causes a reversal of the stress response.

Understanding the Study

If you think about your DNA, it's a vital code that is inherited from your parents and it is essentially static throughout your life. However, the genes in your DNA have somewhat of a coating on them, which involves chemicals known as DNA methylation. It is these chemicals that impact how DNA is expressed and these chemicals can also be impacted by environmental changes.

Preventing Childhood Abuse

In particular, changes can occur during a person's earlier years, from the embryonic state and also in the childhood years. The findings of the study show that a troubling childhood can end up resulting in changes to a person's DNA. It's a frightening effect because it shows that childhood abuse doesn't only trigger psychological damage but it can also result in biological damage as well.

We already have more than enough reasons to prevent childhood abuse but this new study still adds another one into the mix. It shows the extent of the impact from childhood abuse, such that DNA experiences changes. Hopefully, we can continue to learn more about the interaction between DNA, the environment and stressful experiences.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Topics
Latest Comments
  • twinkle twinkle
    Re: The Importance of DNA
    The best way to describe the significance of DNA. Thanks
    21 January 2018
  • Bara
    Re: DNA Test after Death
    my brother passed away and was cremated. Is it possible to have his DNA tested using his hair off his clothes that we still have?
    21 January 2018
  • None
    Re: How was DNA Discovered?
    Sorry to read that Ray Gosling (Franklin's PhD student) has not been credited with preparing the DNA for, and then taking, photograph 51.…
    12 January 2018
  • Preston Playz
    Re: An Overview of DNA Functions
    DNA in the body also contains Nucleosides and nucleotides in Which both contains purine and pyridine that are complex compound…
    10 January 2018
  • ExploreDNA
    Re: DNA Test after Death
    Asking - Your Question:Okay I have a friend and she’s pregnant and has a child born her baby father passed away can she test her baby that’s…
    3 January 2018
  • Asking
    Re: DNA Test after Death
    Okay I have a friend and she’s pregnant and has a child born her baby father passed away can she test her baby that’s born to the pregnancy now
    2 January 2018
  • Teri
    Re: DNA Test after Death
    Mother died from cancer. Had treatments for almost year. Was cremated. Possible to still get any DNA from remains. It was 14 yrs ago Family…
    14 December 2017
  • Olas
    Re: Urine Testing for DNA Fragments
    Does dna enter the urine in the form of nucleuoproteins ? Or it enters alone I need explanation plz??
    9 December 2017
  • Lady Vee
    Re: An Overview of DNA Functions
    It's quite true that DNA was discovered by Crick and Watson based on the study I had on other sites... But I'm surprised you made…
    8 December 2017
  • Shakara
    Re: DNA Test after Death
    Hi just wondering on my birth certificate has my mum name and father but before my mum passed she told me he weren't my father so how can i…
    25 November 2017
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the ExploreDNA website. Please read our Disclaimer.