The door is now open for research into the epigenetic effects of childhood trauma and abuse on the genome, and the interplay with the psychological welfare of the maturing child.  And Meaney and Szyf’s team (see Abuse Affects Genes) have already directly translated the principles of their rat experiment to humans.  They looked at GR gene expression in brains from adults, comparing suicide victims who had been abused as children, suicide victims who had not suffered abuse and deceased individuals who were neither abused nor had committed suicide. GR expression was lower in the brains of the abused suicide victims than in the other two brain sample groups, consistent with high levels of methylation on the gene. The results strongly suggest that childhood abuse alters the epigenome.

A similar study from Oberlander and colleagues from British Columbia looked at maternal depression during pregnancy and epigenetic effects on the newborn (Epigenetics 2008).  They compared GR gene expression and DNA methylation (from DNA in the umbilical cord blood) in newborn babies of depressed versus non-depressed mothers. Although the methylation status of the GR gene in the newborn babies was sensitive to the mood of the mother during pregnancy, it was not determined whether there were behavioural differences between the children.