Epigenetics may give a clue as to one way that the effects of abuse are passed on to children, The Economist says. University of Konstanz researchers Axel Meyer, Thomas Elbert, and their colleagues used bisulfite sequencing to examine the DNA methylation status of the offspring of mothers who were physically or psychologically abused during pregnancy. As they report in Translational Psychiatry, the researchers found prenatal exposure to such violence was associated with increased methylation of the glucocorticoid receptor promoter, which is involved in stress response. Abuse before or after pregnancy was not associated with GR promoter methylation, and there was no effect on the methylation status of the mother's GR promoter. "As these sustained epigenetic modifications are established in utero, we consider this to be a plausible mechanism by which prenatal stress may program adult psychosocial function," the researchers write. The Economist points out, though, that "what can be done with such knowledge is unclear."
Passing It On
Jul 25, 2011