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Stress response after childhood trauma measurable in DNA

Stress response after childhood trauma measurable in DNA

Traumatic childhood events leave an epigenetic trail in the DNA. Primarily, the methylation of the KITLG gene is relevant for stress response programming in the brain. That is written by researchers of Utrecht University and the Max Planck Institute in Nature Communications.

Exposure to heavy stress during childhood is a risk factor for the development of psychiatric disorders in later life. Little is known about the etiology of these conditions. Although earlier research showed a connection between childhood trauma, epigenetic changes and adult stress response, no conclusions could be drawn. There have been speculations, however, concerning the role of endocrine changes in this process, particularly of the stress hormone cortisol.

The researchers conducted a study on whole-genome methylation in 85 healthy volunteers and 45 subjects from a childhood trauma study. These subjects underwent a stress test after which blood was drawn. Cortisol levels and loci of DNA methylation were determined. A strong association was found between methylation of the KITLG gene and childhood trauma, cortisol levels and stress response in later life.

According to the authors, the KITLG gene could serve as a diagnostic marker for psychiatric disorders in adults. Also, they propose the development of drugs that could alter DNA methylation patterns. In the long run, this might enable a decrease or even prevention of psychiatric issues in later life as a result of childhood trauma.

Source: UMC Utrecht, Nature Communications

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