Penn State study: Stress alters children’s genomes

8 Apr

Moi said in Schools have to deal with depressed and troubled children:
Both the culture and the economy are experiencing turmoil. For some communities, the unsettled environment is a new phenomenon, for other communities, children have been stressed for generations. According to the article, Understanding Depression which was posted at the Kids Health site:

Depression is the most common mental health problem in the United States. Each year it affects 17 million people of all age groups, races, and economic backgrounds.
As many as 1 in every 33 children may have depression; in teens, that number may be as high as 1 in 8.

Schools are developing strategies to deal with troubled kids.

Jyoti Madhusoodanan and Nature magazine reported in the Scientific American article, Stress Alters Children’s Genomes:

Growing up in a stressful social environment leaves lasting marks on young chromosomes, a study of African American boys has revealed. Telomeres, repetitive DNA sequences that protect the ends of chromosomes from fraying over time, are shorter in children from poor and unstable homes than in children from more nurturing families.
When researchers examined the DNA of 40 boys from major US cities at age 9, they found that the telomeres of children from harsh home environments were 19% shorter than those of children from advantaged backgrounds. The length of telomeres is often considered to be a biomarker of chronic stress.
The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, brings researchers closer to understanding how social conditions in childhood can influence long-term health, says Elissa Epel, a health psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the research.
Participants’ DNA samples and socio-economic data were collected as part of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, an effort funded by the National Institutes of Health to track nearly 5,000 children, the majority of whom were born to unmarried parents in large US cities in 1998–2000. Children’s environments were rated on the basis of their mother’s level of education; the ratio of a family’s income to needs; harsh parenting; and whether family structure was stable, says lead author Daniel Notterman, a molecular biologist at Pennsylvania State University in Hershey.
The telomeres of boys whose mothers had a high-school diploma were 32% longer compared with those of boys whose mothers had not finished high school. Children who came from stable families had telomeres that were 40% longer than those of children who had experienced many changes in family structure, such as a parent with multiple partners.
Genetic links
The link between stressful home environments and telomere length is moderated by genetic variants in pathways that process two chemical transmitters in the brain, serotonin and dopamine, the study found. Previous studies have correlated variants in some of the genes studied, such as TPH2, with depression, bipolar disorder and other mental-health issues. Variants of another gene, 5-HTT, reduce the amount of the protein that recycles serotonin in nerve synapses. Some alleles of these genes are thought to increase the sensitivity of carriers to external risks….


Social disadvantage, genetic sensitivity, and children’s telomere length
1. Colter Mitchella,
2. John Hobcraftb,
3. Sara S. McLanahanc,1,
4. Susan Rutherford Siegeld,
5. Arthur Bergd,
6. Jeanne Brooks-Gunne,
7. Irwin Garfinkelf, and
8. Daniel Nottermand,g,1
Author Affiliations
This paper makes two contributions to research on the link between the social environment and health. Using data from a birth cohort study, we show that, among African American boys, those who grow up in highly disadvantaged environments have shorter telomeres (at age 9) than boys who grow up in highly advantaged environments. We also find that the association between the social environment and telomere length (TL) is moderated by genetic variation within the serotonin and dopamine pathways. Boys with the highest genetic sensitivity scores had the shortest TL when exposed to disadvantaged environments and the longest TL when exposed to advantaged environments. To our knowledge, this report is the first to document a gene–social environment interaction for TL, a biomarker of stress exposure.
Disadvantaged social environments are associated with adverse health outcomes. This has been attributed, in part, to chronic stress. Telomere length (TL) has been used as a biomarker of chronic stress: TL is shorter in adults in a variety of contexts, including disadvantaged social standing and depression. We use data from 40, 9-y-old boys participating in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to extend this observation to African American children. We report that exposure to disadvantaged environments is associated with reduced TL by age 9 y. We document significant associations between low income, low maternal education, unstable family structure, and harsh parenting and TL. These effects were moderated by genetic variants in serotonergic and dopaminergic pathways. Consistent with the differential susceptibility hypothesis, subjects with the highest genetic sensitivity scores had the shortest TL when exposed to disadvantaged social environments and the longest TL when exposed to advantaged environments.
↵1To whom correspondence may be addressed. E-mail: or
Author contributions: C.M., J.H., S.S.M., J.B.-G., I.G., and D.N. designed research; C.M., J.H., S.S.M., J.B.-G., I.G., and D.N. performed research; S.R.S. and D.N. contributed new reagents/analytic tools; C.M., J.H., S.S.M., A.B., J.B.-G., I.G., and D.N. analyzed data; and C.M. and D.N. wrote the paper.
Reviewers: T.E.S., Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles; S.J.S., Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health.
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
This article contains supporting information online at
Freely available online through the PNAS open access option.

Here is the press release from Penn State:

Disadvantaged environments affect genetic material, study finds
By Scott Gilbert
April 8, 2014
HERSHEY, Pa. — Children experiencing chronic stress from a disadvantaged life have shorter telomeres than their advantaged peers, according to a study led by Dr. Daniel Notterman, vice dean for research and graduate studies, and professor of pediatrics, and biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State College of Medicine.
Telomeres are DNA sequences at the end of each chromosome that protect the ends of the chromosomes from damage. They vary in length per person and shrink as a person ages, a process that may be linked to health and disease.
The negative health effects of long-term chronic stress may be connected to the shortening of telomeres. Telomeres shorten faster in individuals experiencing chronic stress, such as that from living in a disadvantaged environment.
Notterman and colleagues studied genetic information from 40 9-year-old African-American boys.
Boys from disadvantaged environments had shorter telomeres than peers in the study who were not. In addition, the effect of environment on telomere length was mediated by genes involved with the function of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin. Neurotransmitters help transmit signals between brain cells and send information throughout the body.
For boys with genetic variants of dopamine or serotonin pathways that conferred greater sensitivity to environmental signals associated with stress, those from disadvantaged environments had the shortest telomeres, and those from advantaged environments had the longest.
The results suggest a link between genetic factors and social environment associated with changing telomere length and provides a biomarker for chronic stress exposure in children as young as 9, according to the authors.
Researchers also from Penn State College of Medicine are Arthur Berg, associate professor of biostatistics and bioinformatics, and Sue Siegel, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology.
The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and was supported by the National Institutes of Health-National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute. For more information, visit PNAS’s Early Edition.
Sarah D. Sparks writes in the Education Week article, Research Traces Impacts of Childhood Adversity:
The stress of a spelling bee or a challenging science project can enhance a student’s focus and promote learning. But the stress of a dysfunctional or unstable home life can poison a child’s cognitive ability for a lifetime, according to new research.
While educators and psychologists have said for decades that the effects of poverty interfere with students’ academic achievement, new evidence from cognitive and neuroscience is showing exactly how adversity in childhood damages students’ long-term learning and health….
Good experiences, like nurturing parents and rich early-child-care environments, help build and reinforce neural connections in areas such as language development and self-control, while adversity weakens those connections.
Over time, the connections, good or bad, stabilize, “and you can’t go back and rewire; you have to adapt,” Dr. Shonkoff said. “If you’ve built on strong foundations, that’s good, and if you have weak foundations, the brain has to work harder, and it costs more to the brain and society…”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides access to the peer-reviewed publications resulting from The ACE Study.

See, School psychologists are needed to treat troubled children

Our goal as a society should be:

A healthy child in a healthy family who attends a healthy school in a healthy neighborhood ©


Schools have to deal with depressed and troubled children

School psychologists are needed to treat troubled children

Battling teen addiction: ‘Recovery high schools’

1. About.Com’s Depression In Young Children

2. Psych Central’s Depression In Young Children

3. Psychiatric News’ Study Helps Pinpoint Children With Depression

4. Family Doctor’s What Is Depression?

5. WebMD’s Depression In Children

6. Healthline’s Is Your Child Depressed?

7. Medicine.Net’s Depression In Children

If you or your child needs help for depression or another illness, then go to a reputable medical provider. There is nothing wrong with taking the steps necessary to get well.

Where information leads to Hope. © Dr.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

Blogs by Dr. Wilda:

Dr. Wilda Reviews ©

Dr. Wilda ©


One Response to “Penn State study: Stress alters children’s genomes”


  1. Tulane University Medical School study: Family violence affects the DNA of children | drwilda - June 17, 2014

    […] about the effect stress has on genes in Penn State study: Stress alters children’s genomes A Tulane Medical School study finds that family violence or trauma alters a child’s […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: