SEP 08, 2022 3:53 AM PDT

Evidence of Trauma in DNA Could Predict Who is Most at Risk

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

A recent report has outlined the findings from a 17-year study of almost 500 people who experienced trauma in childhood. This work has shown that such trauma can leave epigenetic signatures that could potentially be used as predictive biomarkers for mental disorders including depression, alcohol use disorder, and nicotine dependence, which would identify those who are most in need of preventive treatment after experiencing traumatic events. The findings have been reported in Molecular Psychiatry.

Image credit: Pixabay

We don't all react the same way to the same event. When two children both experience the same traumatic situation, one might have much more severe consequences later on in life because of that trauma compared to the other individual, noted lead study author Edwin van den Oord, Ph.D., professor and director of the Center for Biomarker Research & Precision Medicine at the VCU School of Pharmacy. "Our biology can sometimes respond to trauma, and by looking at DNA responses associated with trauma, we've developed a novel tool for predicting long-term health risks."

In this study, the researchers used human samples to assess epigenetics, which are molecular changes that impact gene expression without altering the DNA sequence. Methyl groups that bind to DNA and change gene activity, for example, are one very common epigenetic marker. Things in our environment, such as habits, age, diet, or even trauma, can alter our epigenetics, said study co-author Karolina Aberg, Ph.D., associate director of the Center for Biomarker Research & Precision Medicine.

The Great Smoky Mountain Study was a 30-year project created by Duke University and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services that followed hundreds of kids as they grew to adulthood.

"Most participants began their involvement in this study when they were 9 to 13 years old. These individuals are now in their 30s," said Aberg. "There are few studies in the world that have collected this kind of data for so long."

DNA was extracted from blood samples and used to analyze nearly 28 million places in the human genome where methyl tags could appear. Methylation changes were tracked along with reports of traumatic events such as injury, violence, sexual assault, or threats of death.

Computational tools tracked the changes that were linked to trauma, and the data was continuously collected as the participants grew older. Eventually, methylation risk scores were developed that could predict adverse outcomes like physical health issues, psychiatric disorders, poverty, social problems, or substance abuse. Those risk scores were able to predict the type of problems individuals would have 17 years after they'd experienced trauma.

The methylation risk scores were also better at predicting negative outcomes than the trauma reports. The study authors noted that this illustrates how the impact of childhood trauma depends on the person.

"DNA methylation has better predictive power because it's not just saying whether a child experienced trauma, but rather it's showing us how that child is responding to trauma," said van den Oord.

These risk scores might be particularly useful when children are difficult to assess because they cannot speak about the event or their experience.

Now, the researchers would like to confirm these results by testing methylation risk scores on a much larger dataset.

"This study has shown that methylation biomarkers could potentially help identify those most at risk of experiencing trauma-related health issues," van den Oord said. "If we can determine who is the most in need of preventive care, we can tailor their treatments and support networks to put them on the best path for recovery."

Sources: Virginia Commonwealth University, Molecular Psychiatry

About the Author
BS
Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
SEP 16, 2022
Coronavirus
Persistent COVID Cases Seem to Encourage Viral Mutations
SEP 16, 2022
Persistent COVID Cases Seem to Encourage Viral Mutations
The majority of SARS-CoV-2 infections start to get better within several days, although infected people can shed virus a ...
SEP 21, 2022
Neuroscience
What We Can Learn From Brain Asymmetry
SEP 21, 2022
What We Can Learn From Brain Asymmetry
A study published in eLife examined the subtle differences in functional organization between the left and right side of ...
OCT 08, 2022
Plants & Animals
Genomic Research Could Help Better Treat Certain Fungal Infections
OCT 08, 2022
Genomic Research Could Help Better Treat Certain Fungal Infections
Fungi can cause a range of infections and problems for humans. However, despite the fact that we encounter and inhale fu ...
NOV 12, 2022
Earth & The Environment
45,000-Year-Old Human DNA Divulges Human Evolution Secrets
NOV 12, 2022
45,000-Year-Old Human DNA Divulges Human Evolution Secrets
In a recent study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, an international team of researchers led by the Universit ...
NOV 09, 2022
Genetics & Genomics
What happened to the Neandertals?
NOV 09, 2022
What happened to the Neandertals?
New research suggests that interbreeding, not violence, may have caused the Neandertal extinction.
DEC 04, 2022
Genetics & Genomics
Aging Processes may be Altered by Early-Life Experiences
DEC 04, 2022
Aging Processes may be Altered by Early-Life Experiences
The way certain genes are expressed in aging organisms seems to be significantly impacted by events that happen earlier ...
Loading Comments...