Monday, December 5, 2011

Separation/Institutionalization Cause Genetic Changes

MedicalXpress reports on a study of institutionalized children:
Published online in the current issue of Development and Psychopathology, the study reports differences in DNA methylation, one of the main regulatory mechanisms of gene expression, or genome functioning. The investigators compared two cohorts: 14 children raised since birth in institutional care and 14 children raised by their biological parents.

Senior author Elena Grigorenko, associate professor at the Yale Child Study Center, and her colleagues took blood samples from children aged 7 to 10 living in orphanages and children growing up in typical families in the northwest region of the Russian Federation. They then profiled the genomes of all the children to identify which biological processes and pathways might be affected by deprivation of parental attention and care.

The team found that in the institutionalized group, there was a greater number of changes in the genetic regulation of the systems controlling immune response and inter-cellular interactions, including a number of important mechanisms in the development and function of the brain.

"Our study shows that the early stress of separation from a biological parent impacts long-term programming of genome function; this might explain why adopted children may be particularly vulnerable to harsh parenting in terms of their physical and mental health," said Grigorenko. "Parenting adopted children might require much more nurturing care to reverse these changes in genome regulation."
That last quote from the head researcher is interesting -- it pegs the genetic effects to "the early stress of separation from a biological parent," not to the institutionalization.  Sounds like their next step should be a study of children adopted as newborns and never institutionalized. . . .


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I agree Malinda and it seems like a leap at the end to suggest that a child adopted at infancy, would suffer the same (long term) effects as a child who has spent their childhood in an institutionalized setting. Suggesting it is more the initial "break" from their biological parent than the institionalized care/setting creating these pysiological changes.

That being said, I am not at all surprised they found basic organic differrences between the two groups. Nutrition, stimulation, brain growth/development, language skills, attachment, etc. all suffer for a child lacking familial support.

Even infants show a causal link to those stressors but of course it is magnified intensely and more challenging to correct as time goes on and the child ages.

I too would like to see this study continued and while I don't agree with the big leap they made, without seeming to back it up with data, I do believe that all adoptive families need to view parenting their child, even one adopted at infancy or under the age of one, with considerable care, understanding and expertise.

Actually that is excellent advice for any parent! :)


Anonymous said...

"Children who experience the stress of separation at birth from biological parents AND ARE BROUGHT UP IN ORPHANAGES . . . "

Way to confound the variables.

justine said...

A little off-topic:

Dr. Deborah Mark, a pediatrician, was found guilty of first degree murder and eight counts of child abuse in the death of her four-year-old daughter, Kairissa, on 12/2/11. She was taken into custody immediately to begin serving a life sentence. Mark's husband, Steven Mark, is facing felony charges including child abuse. His trial was expected to start next year.

Kairissa was adopted from China in April 2010 and died 83 days later.

This case received little media attention, but at least justice was done.