A New Study From A Leading University
In Germany Demonstrates How Stress Increases Risk of Mental and Physical Illness By Altering Genes
According to a new study conducted by researchers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany, psychological stress may increase the risk of mental and physical illness by altering the control of genes.
The research demonstrates that stress actually alters the methylation of DNA as a result of the activity of certain genes. The team investigated specific genes already known to be involved with controlling stress.
Previous studies on the effects of stress have shown that early psychological trauma and highly stressful events are linked to long-term methylation changes to DNA. With this new study, the team research scientists sought to understand if the DNA alteration also occurs after acute psychological stress, such as the type of stress a person normally experiences during a job interview.
To differentiate, OXTR acts as a “docking site” for oxytocin, the chemical messenger known as the “love” or “trust” hormone. By contrast, BDNF functions in the development of brain cells.
The researchers recruited 76 participants (ages 60 – 69 ) to experience two kinds of stressful events. The first was to to take part in a mock job interview, and the other was to solve math problems while being watched.
Both of these tests are commonly used to
produce stress under controlled analytical laboratory environment.
The subjects gave blood samples before the tests, and twice afterwards: one ten minutes after the test (post-test) and another 1 and 1/2 hours after (follow-up). The researchers could measure the amount of DNA methylation in the two genes
from these samples.
The results showed that the BDNF (brain development) gene was not affected by the stress tests. Interestingly however, the OXTR gene showed measurable methylation changes.
There was an increase in methylation in a section of this gene in the post-test measure. This result suggests the cells formed fewer receptors.
Then in the follow-up blood sample, 1.5 hours after the test, methylation in the OXTR gene fell below the pre-test level, which suggests that the cells produced too many receptors.
“The results suggest a dynamic regulation of DNA methylation in OXTR , which may in part reflect changes in blood cell composition, but not BDNF after acute psychosocial stress,” reported the study’s authors.
“Epigenetic changes may well be an important link between stress and chronic diseases,” commented Dr. Gunther Meinlschmidt, professor and head of the Research Department of Psychobiology, Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy at the LWL University Hospital in Universität Bochum University.
“We hope to identify more complex epigenetic stress patterns in future and thus to be able to determine the associated risk of disease. This could provide information on new approaches to treatment and prevention,” he added.
- Gene Tied to Obesity, Depression, ADHD (nlm.nih.gov)
- Stressful experiences and psychological trauma in early life are associated with epigenetics (georgefebish.wordpress.com)