Bullying Can Change Gene Expression Linked to Mood
Bullying children may be a threat to their future mental health
A recent study by a researcher at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress (CSHS) at the Hôpital Louis-H. Lafontaine and professor at the Université de Montréal suggests that bullying by peers changes the structure surrounding a gene involved in regulating mood, making victims more vulnerable to mental health problems as they age.
The study published in the journal Psychological Medicine seeks to better understand the mechanisms that explain how difficult experiences disrupt our response to stressful situations.
"Many people think that our genes are immutable;
however, this study suggests that environment, even
our social environment, can affect gene function.
This is particularly the case for victimization experiences
in childhood, which change not only our stress response
but the functioning of genes involved in mood regulation,"
A previous study by Ouellet-Morin, conducted at the Institute of Psychiatry in London (UK), showed that bullied children secrete less cortisolthe stress hormonebut had more problems with social interaction and aggressive behaviour.
The present study indicates that the reduction of cortisol, which occurs around the age of 12, is preceded two years earlier by a change in the structure surrounding a gene (SERT) that regulates serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation and depression.
To achieve these results, 28 pairs of identical twins with a mean age of 10 years were analyzed separately according to their experiences of bullying by peers: one twin had been bullied at school while the other had not.
"Since they were identical twins living in the same conditions, changes in the chemical structure surrounding the gene cannot be explained by genetics or family environment. Our results suggest that victimization experiences are the source of these changes," says Ouellet-Morin.
According to the author, it would now be worthwhile to evaluate the possibility of reversing these psychological effects, in particular, through interventions at school and support for victims.
Original article: http://www.nouvelles.umontreal.ca/udem-news/news/20121218-bullying-by-childhood-peers-leaves-a-trace-that-can-change-the-expression-of-a-gene-linked-to-mood.html