Unraveling the ill effects of early-life adversity


Scientists have begun to tease apart how stress, social isolation, and deprivation early in life can harm children's brains and lead to behavior and mental health problems later in life. Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital reported last week that mice raised in isolation not only behave differently, they have thinner insulation around brain cells in a key region of the brain. These changes cause signals to travel more sluggishly through the brain and appear to be irreversible.

A group of Canadian researchers, in a post-mortem analysis of brains of suicide victims, found in 2009 a particular difference in how a gene involved in stress responses was regulated in those who experienced childhood abuse. Similar changes had been found in rat brains.

"Data suggest these things exist, that genes do reflect stress early in life," said Moshe Szyf, a professor of pharmacology at McGill University who was involved in that work. "Could we reverse them? . . . I think there's going to be lot happening in mental health and behavior, both using drugs and using behavioral interventions."

Read more at the Boston Globe