October 09, 2006

Epigenetics and Mental Illness - Child Care Has an Impact

New research suggests that events during childhood have an impact on the brain (and brain development) even if no conventional memory is formed. Researchers are now viewing this as a potentially important factor in mental illness. Research findings suggest that a mother's parenting style can affect the activity of a child's genes.

The Economist magazine recently covered this important new area of research. The Economist noted:

"According to the [researchers in this field], early experience does profoundly shape the brain. However, it is not memory that it shapes - at least, not memory as conventionally understood. What it actually molds is the way genes work."...
"Moshe Szyf, of McGill University in Montreal, studies the effect of maternal care on epigenetic imprinting. As he explained at this week's meeting on Epigenetics and Neural Developmental Disorders, held in Beltsville, Maryland, imprinting might be a general mechanism whereby experiences are translated into behaviour. If that turns out to be so, it will affect the understanding and treatment of mental illness."
"The first inkling of this came when Michael Meaney, one of Dr Szyf's long-term collaborators, noticed that rat pups whose mothers spent a lot of time licking and grooming them grew up to be less fearful and better-adjusted adults than the offspring of neglectful mothers. Crucially, these well-adjusted rats then gave their own babies the same type of careā€”in effect, transmitting the behaviour from mother to daughter by inducing similar epigenetic changes."

For decades researchers have attempted to draw a direct correlation between genes and mental illnesses have been disappointed. But purely environmental explanations have also been unsuccessful. Psychiatrists now realise that there is something else in between. That something may be epigenetic imprinting. This research seems to match well with observations that other researchers have made - including Dr. Dan Weinberger (Schizophrenia Risk Genes), and a Finnish study that demonstrated an 86% lower risk of schizophrenia in healthy family environments (for biologically high-risk children). More research will be needed confirm this theory.

Read the full story: Learning without Learning

More Info: Childcare, Genetics, Epigenetics and Schizophrenia

Childhood Emotional Abuse, Emotional Neglect and Schizophrenia

Causes and Prevention of Schizophrenia


I think schizophrenia triggered by childhood abuse is actually a case of Epigenetics. I would like to present my own case in this regard. I am 28 years old and am a schizophrenic. I have suffered over two decades of the worst kind of torture and mental abuse. I became a schizophrenic when I was 16 years but was diagnosed properly only when I was 23 having survived an attempted murder (by my abusers) and taken to a hospital by my brother. My case that I was not born with the disease stems out from the facts that I was a normail kid like anybody else when I was young. Another thing which supports my hypothesis is that even after 10 years into the disease I have not reached a stage of having hallucinations and delusions. My doctor says that I am very lucky about it but there is no guarantee about the future. I do suffer from the most severest kind of cognitive disorders. There are times when I cannot properly read a single line from a newspaper. Altered sense of consciousness, chronically impaired memory, impaired concentration, impaired comprehension, inflexibility, distractibility, inability to process incoming audio coherently, confusion, disorganized speech, complete social isolation, emotional flattening, avolition, etc. are some of the problem that I suffer from. Most of my symptoms fall under the negative and cognitive type. I would like to add that I am not pranoid and also I am not suffering from BiPolar Disorder. I am a very shy person which sometimes (most of the times) even leads to social phobia. I am not violent and will not even hurt an ant. I do not know for sure, but I think, people who have delusions and hallucinations are the ones who are born with the disease and are gentically suceptible from birth. This may lead people to think CIAS is also something you are born with. But it is quite the opposite in my case. I was one of the toppers in my class in school and am considered a genius in the whole of my family. My life on the academic front is littered with milestones and personal achievements. My doctor acknowledges this. I am on Quetiapine and Aripiprazole now. The drugs though they help me somewhat do not address the main problem : CIAS. Somedays are so bad that I prefer having delusions and hallucinations rather than this.But the good news is that I have been feeling better since the last couple of weeks now.

Posted by: Faizan at October 10, 2006 12:19 AM

I think it is one of those dominant Mother theory of Freida Reichmann and Defecient parenting as espoused by LIDZ in different form.researchers should wake up to physical causes in brain and concentrate on something which is concrete instead of abstract behaviour as the cause or symptom.

Posted by: captainjohann at October 16, 2006 06:00 AM

Well Fazian I have the same problems like you (I am quite happy that I ain't the only one with this kind of schizophrenia) and I also don't have hallucinations or delusions so I just wanted to know if any of the drugs helped you with your problems because I haven't tired any drugs yet becuase these symptoms have just started few weeks ago and I still wans't diagnosied with schizophrenia. And I would prefer to have hallucinations and delusions then this.

Posted by: Duki at June 8, 2007 05:57 AM

Captainjohann, to arrive at even the first understandings of Epigenetics, scientists absolutely -did- "wake up" to physical causes, specifically the fact that the Human Genome Project was nearly disappointing in it's revelation that our genetic code is pitiful in content compared to some relatively "basic" life-forms, and did not "hide all the secrets" it was supposed to; as well, a lot of study went into twins who were virtually 100% identical in "nurture" and exactly 100% identical in "nature" - yet one would develop a genetic disease that the other did not. What you are suggesting these researchers "wake up" to "in the brain" as "physical causes" - well, that's exactly the path that pointed to Epigenetics. When pathways malform in the brain at an early age, what else is that but "physical causes in the brain"? We're aware of this more often in the form of children who have sight or hearing difficulties at an early age when the brain is still forming, and if left untreated, these malformations will affect their senses forever. This becomes a permanent effect at a certain age when the brain's systems call it "done" and never revisit the formations of those pathways again. People understand this because one can point at an eye or ear and call it physical - but the damage is really cognitive. Cognitive damage of a similar nature can have the same ill effects on any number of behaviors such as those listed above by Fazian as well as, well anything else except possibly the automatic functions such as breathing and heartbeat. Nearly ALL the brain is cognitive in function.

Attitudes such as yours are the reason why Fazian was diagnosed decades late for beneficial treatment, as was I for Major Depressive. I'll bet he was treated like a hypochondriac a lot along the way, too. In generations before ours the big taboo diagnosis were Cancer and MS - causing people to receive the same mistreatment or non-treatment that considerably shortened their lives.

Epigenetics and the potential applications of the science are not a cure-all, or a magic wand. If you genetically are predisposed (broken) toward a particular illness, you've got it, so sorry, hopefully science will eventually come up with something for that. What EG is chasing down are those cases in which the illness is through no fault of the genes themselves, but due to "chemicals" at the genetic level causing processes to shut off or start up inappropriately. This is much the same at that level as a person entering accurate but inappropriate data for a bake sale into a software application designed to calculate yearly taxes - it's similar, but wrong, and so the result is similar, but wrong. Reversing the effects of the alteration of the normal genetic processes is becoming possible through EG, so that the genes may then go on to do what they were originally designed to do. From that point, repeated exposure to elements that caused the problem in the first place will likely cause a recurrence, so again, no magic wand. It does, however, take people like Fazian and myself who are on Quietapine for life, "only to manage, never to cure", and allow us to potentially complete a months-long course of treatment that does actually cure, and then rather than managing, we can move on to maintaining, just as all the "normal" people of the world are.

Posted by: khaboh at November 5, 2007 12:08 PM

Post a comment

Please enter this code to enable your comment -
Remember Me?
(you may use HTML tags for style)
* indicates required