Highlighting molecular clues to the link between childhood maltreatment and later suicide

Exposure to childhood maltreatment increases the risk for most psychiatric disorders as well as many negative consequences of these conditions. This new study, by Dr. Gustavo Turecki and colleagues at McGill University, Canada, provides important insight into one of the most extreme outcomes, suicide.

"In this study, we expanded our previous work on the epigenetic regulation of the by investigating the impact of severe early-life adversity on DNA methylation," explained Dr. Turecki. The glucocorticoid receptor is important because it is a brain target for the .

The researchers studied brain tissue from people who had committed suicide, some of whom had a history of , and compared that tissue to people who had died from other causes. They found that particular variants of the glucocorticoid receptor were less likely to be present in the limbic system, or emotion circuit, of the brain in people who had committed suicide and were maltreated as children compared to the other two groups.

This study also advances the understanding of how the altered pattern of glucocorticoid receptor regulation developed in the maltreated suicide completers. The authors found that the pattern of methylation of the gene coding for the glucocorticoid receptors was altered in the suicide completers with a history of abuse. These differences were associated with distinct .

Since methylation is one way that genes are switched on or off for long periods of time, it appears that childhood adversity can produce long-lasting changes in the regulation of a key stress response system that may be associated with increased risk for suicide.

"Preventing suicide is a critical challenge for psychiatry. This study provides important new information about brain changes that may increase the risk of suicide," said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of . "It is striking that early life maltreatment can produce these long-lasting changes in the control of specific genes in the brain. It is also troubling that the consequences of this process can be so dire. Thus, it is important that we continue to study these epigenetic processes that seem to underlie aspects of the lasting consequences of childhood adversity."

More information: The article is "Differential Glucocorticoid Receptor Exon 1B, 1C, and 1H Expression and Methylation in Suicide Completers with a History of Childhood Abuse" by Benoit Labonte, Volodymyr Yerko, Jeffrey Gross, Naguib Mechawar, Michael J. Meaney, Moshe Szyf, and Gustavo Turecki (doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.01.034). The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 72, Issue 1 (July 1, 2012)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Childhood trauma has life-long effect on genes and the brain

Feb 23, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- McGill University and Douglas Institute scientists have discovered that childhood trauma can actually alter your DNA and shape the way your genes work. This confirms in humans earlier findings in rats, that ...

Stressful pregnancies can lead to stressful children

Jul 22, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- A new study published in Translational Psychiatry suggests that children whose mothers are highly stressed during pregnancy are more likely to be vulnerable to stress as they grow older. ...

Recommended for you

Mothers don't speak so clearly to their babies

Jan 23, 2015

People have a distinctive way of talking to babies and small children: We speak more slowly, using a sing-song voice, and tend to use cutesy words like "tummy". While we might be inclined to think that we ...

Explainer: What is sexual fluidity?

Jan 23, 2015

Sexual preferences are not set in stone and can change over time, often depending on the immediate situation the individual is in. This has been described as sexual fluidity. For example, if someone identifies as heterosexual but th ...

Lucky charms: When are superstitions used most?

Jan 23, 2015

It might be a lucky pair of socks, or a piece of jewelry; whatever the item, many people turn to a superstition or lucky charm to help achieve a goal. For instance, you used a specific avatar to win a game and now you see ...

Low-income boys fare worse in wealth's shadow

Jan 22, 2015

Low-income boys fare worse, not better, when they grow up alongside more affluent neighbors, according to new findings from Duke University. In fact, the greater the economic gap between the boys and their neighbors, the ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.