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Gene Changes Observed in Abused Children

Update Date: Jul 24, 2014 07:43 PM EDT

Experiencing abuse or neglect in childhood could increase the risk of emotional and health problems, according to a genetic study.

Researchers found that abuse negatively affects the say genes are activates, which can seriously influence child development.

Researchers found that parenting styles could influence the activity of a particular gene called the glucocorticoid receptor gene, which is responsible for essential aspects of social functioning and health.

After looking at the DNA methylation in the blood of 56 children ages 11 to 14, researchers found that maltreated children had significantly increased methylation on several sites of the glucocorticoid receptor gene, also known as NR3C1. Researchers said the latest findings support previous studies on rodents.

While there were no differences observed in the genes that children were born with, the latest study found significantly differences in the extent to which theie gnes had been turned on or off.

"This link between early life stress and changes in genes may uncover how early childhood experiences get under the skin and confer lifelong risk," researcher Seth D. Pollak, professor of psychology and pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, said in a news release.

"Our finding that children who were physically maltreated display a specific change to the glucocorticoid receptor gene could explain why abused children have more emotional difficulties as they age," said Pollak. "They may have fewer glucocorticoid receptors in their brains, which would impair the brain's stress-response system and result in problems regulating stress."

The findings are published in the journal Child Development.

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