Experiencing adverse conditions during childhood can change genes

Experiencing adverse conditions during childhood can change genes

A study conducted by the Institute of Health Research Pier Virgili (IISPV), with specialists from the Pier Mata University Institute Hospital, Rovira Virgili University (URV) and other centres, has identified an epigenetic change in the DDR1 gene – a chemical modification of the DDR1 gene. DNA structure – which occurs when a person is exposed to adverse circumstances such as physical abuse, emotional abuse, or neglect of basic care in childhood or adolescence, and the person feels that he or she is constantly in a state of stress.

Although these changes are inherent in the transformation that an organism undergoes throughout its life, they occur more frequently when faced with adverse scenarios. Previously, it was already established that one of the causes of mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder was the wear and tear of having such experiences. The identification of this epigenetic change adds to similar findings around the world, which may represent a turning point in understanding the etiology and approach of the disorder.

The progress achieved in this research lies in the fact that it can contribute to the fact that in the future, if you compare the results with other samples, thanks to the analysis of the blood of a patient suffering from bipolar disorder, it will be possible to determine the severity of bipolar disorder. This modification can therefore significantly improve treatments, becoming more personalized and effective.

This study, known as Bipogent, was made possible thanks to a team of researchers from the IISPV and Pir Mata University Hospital, led by Elisabet Vilela, in collaboration with two research groups from the Center for Biomedical Research in the Mental Health Network, headed by Edith Pomarol-Clott and Edward Vieta.

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In its implementation, 128 adults with bipolar disorder and 141 adults without any mental illness participated. They were followed up through clinical and psychological evaluations and analysis of blood samples. “Without the willingness and generosity of these participants, this study would not have been possible,” says Dr. Villella.

What is the DDR1 gene?

DDR1 is a gene that functions in one of the most important cells in the brain: oligodendrocytes. They are the cells responsible for covering neurons with myelin, a layer of fat that helps transmit information more quickly and efficiently.

Previous studies have shown that in 60% to 85% of cases, the onset of bipolar disorder is due to genetic factors, making it a disease with a high risk of inheritance. However, other variables, such as those related to the environment, also play an important role. The results of the research were published in the Journal of Molecular Psychiatry, one of the most prestigious journals in the field of psychiatry.

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