Monday, February 23, 2009

Abuse in Childhood Impacts Brain Development in Adulthood

A few months back I posted this story about the impact poverty has on the brain development of children. This study in Nature Neuroscience sheds light on how abuse early in life can impact the biology of the brain later in life. Childhood abuse affects a gene involved in stress control even decades after the abuse. Here is the abstract from the study:

Maternal care influences hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) function in the rat through epigenetic programming of glucocorticoid receptor expression. In humans, childhood abuse alters HPA stress responses and increases the risk of suicide. We examined epigenetic differences in a neuron-specific glucocorticoid receptor (NR3C1) promoter between postmortem hippocampus obtained from suicide victims with a history of childhood abuse and those from either suicide victims with no childhood abuse or controls. We found decreased levels of glucocorticoid receptor mRNA, as well as mRNA transcripts bearing the glucocorticoid receptor 1F splice variant and increased cytosine methylation of an NR3C1 promoter. Patch-methylated NR3C1 promoter constructs that mimicked the methylation state in samples from abused suicide victims showed decreased NGFI-A transcription factor binding and NGFI-A–inducible gene transcription. These findings translate previous results from rat to humans and suggest a common effect of parental care on the epigenetic regulation of hippocampal glucocorticoid receptor expression.

The NY Times has the scoop about this study here.