March 15, 2010
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.
In his study, McGowan reviewed medical records and police reports and interviewed family members to determine whether a subject was abused early in life. He then examined the subjects’ brain tissues and found that among those who had been abused, glucocorticoid-receptor expression was reduced by 40 percent. “If we can identify how these changes occur, we can identify those at high risk and ultimately find ways to treat them,” McGowan says. (see http://discovermagazine.com/2010/jan-feb/061)
*I've heard one definition of "to abuse" as "to use for the wrong purpose." Adoptees suffer profound trauma from early separation from their mothers, and are then transferred to strangers with whom they share no genetic markers. Their identity and history is stripped from them through "sealed records" laws. All to fulfill the demand of baby-buyers in a billion-dollar industry. This, my friends, could not be a better definition of "abuse."
Research done by John Bowlby and many others have provided adequate legitimacy to the effects of early separation of mother & baby. Scientists are just now beginning to "prove" these early impacts and how they should be heeded for "best practice" reforms. It seems they are just now beginning to impact the fields of medicine and neonatology but in the field (business) of adoption they continue to be dismissed.