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Published:February 25th, 2009 15:16 EST
Childhood Abuse

Study Says Childhood Abuse Leads to Gene Damage

By Christopher HIllenbrand

Researchers at the McGill University in Canada looked at the brains of 36 people who died unexpectedly. 12 were from suicide victims with recorded history of abuse, 12 were from suicide victims without a history of abuse, and the final dozen from those who died accidentally. As a stipulation to their study, only individuals that endured intensive physical abuse, those who were horribly neglected and those sexually abused as children were included in their research.

 Childhood Abuse


Upon examination, they found obvious changes in the brain`s chemistry between those who were abused in childhood and died by suicide and those who weren`t reportedly abused and succumbed to suicide or accidentally. The genes related to the stress passage called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function were considerably altered in samples from the abused.


The research team, headed by Michael Meaney, uncovered that the neuron-specific glucocorticoid receptor gene, otherwise known as the NR3C1 promoter, was vastly different in the abused test subjects. Activity of the gene was considerably lower in those with childhood abuse history than that of the other subjects. These same results were found in rats, mice, and other animals that underwent similar trauma.


In a report published in the medical journal Nature Neuroscience, Meaney wrote: in humans, childhood abuse alters HPA stress responses and increases the risk of suicide. 


The team`s findings bolster the theory that childhood abuse and neglect can affect the gene`s development which may cause lifelong impairment. This breakthrough can account for the fact that all forms of childhood abuse often leads to depression and other related mental illnesses. Hopefully, as treatments to reverse the impaired gene`s effects are created, abuse victims may be able to conquer their demons.