Is our genome altered by things that happen to us as children?

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Image credit: Tarah Photography

[A] new study makes a remarkable connection between experience and the genetic diversity of the brain. It suggests that experience can change the DNA sequence of the genome contained in brain cells.

The care that a newborn receives in early life can have profound effects on psychological and intellectual growth.  Attentive nurturing, feeding and grooming can reduce stress and anxiety and enhance psychological wellbeing.  On the other hand, indifference can lead to increased anxiety and impaired psychological adjustment.  This study reveals that one way the quality of early care could cause lifelong changes in behavior is by changing the brain’s genetic nature.

In this study researchers identified natural differences in the quality and abundance of maternal care provided by mice based upon measures of time they spent grooming and nursing their pups.  They identified groups of animals that provided either high or low maternal care.

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Mobile genetic elements accumulated in specific regions of the brains of mouse pups if the pups had poor maternal care. If a pup was born to a mother animal that provided low maternal care, but raised by a mother animal that provided high maternal care that accumulation of mobile genetic elements was eliminated.

[Therefore, childhood mistreatment] may genetically predispose an individual to neurological or psychiatric disease even in the absence of any family history of such disease.

Read full, original post: Early Life Experience: It’s in Your DNA

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