Early childhood abuse might exert lifelong effects by altering a person's DNA and reducing levels of glucocorticoid receptors in the brain, which are important for responding to stress, Canadian scientists have found (McGowan PO et al. Nat Neurosci. 2009;12:342-348).
The investigators examined brain tissue from 24 men who had committed suicide, half of whom had a history of childhood abuse, and from 12 men who had not been abused and died suddenly from other causes. Men with a history of abuse had lower levels of glucocorticoid receptors than did men who had not been abused or had not committed suicide. In addition, in those who had been abused, a snippet of “promoter” DNA that normally facilitates the production of glucocorticoid receptors had been silenced by the attachment of a methyl group.
Stephenson J. Abuse and the Brain. JAMA. 2009;301(13):1329. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.428