Epigenetics is defined as the changes in gene expression in response to the environment. That environment includes child abuse and neglect. A new study from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, published in the Child Development journal, illustrates the impact of abusive and neglectful parenting to changes in the glucocorticoid receptor gene.
“This link between early life stress and changes in genes may uncover how early childhood experiences get under the skin and confer lifelong risk,” said Seth D. Pollak, professor of psychology and pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who directed the study.
“Our finding that children who were physically maltreated display a specific change to the glucocorticoid receptor gene could explain why abused children have more emotional difficulties as they age,” said to Pollak. “They may have fewer glucocorticoid receptors in their brains, which would impair the brain’s stress-response system and result in problems regulating stress.”
Sarah E. Romens, Jennifer McDonald, John Svaren, Seth D. Pollak. Associations Between Early Life Stress and Gene Methylation in Children. Child Development, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12270