Research an unknown topic.
Along with the different people I follow on WordPress, I also follow Neuroscience News and Psychology Today. Everyday I am immersed in the many articles that they publish. This article, or subject that I researched, came from Neuroscience News.
Everyone who familiarizes themselves with neuropsychiatric disorders is also familiar with the correlation between childhood neglect and those said disorders. For me, I’ve always just assumed since everyone has noticed that correlation, that there was a lot of research behind it. This article, titled Early Life Experiences Influence DNA in the Adult Brain, explores the genetic correlation between childhood neglect and the assumed formation of mental illness on a biological level. Our DNA has always said to be stagnant and is what makes us “who we are”, but that is not necessarily true. There are some genes in our DNA that are called “jumping” genes, or long interspersed nuclear elements (LINEs), that copy and paste themselves into a new place in the genome. One already known jumping gene called L1 was found to be able to jump into neuronal brain cells, which benefits diversity, but could also contribute to neuropsychiatric conditions.
In their study, researchers took 2 families of mice: one family with an attentive mother and one family without an attentive mother. To compare, they took DNA from the offspring’s hippocampus which is involved in memory, emotion, and some involuntary functions. The offspring with the attentive mother had lower copies of the L1 gene and those with neglectful mothers had more copies of the L1 gene, which led to greater genetic diversity. To check the experiment, they took offspring from a neglectful mother and placed them with an attentive mother, and then vice versa. The outcome had the same results of the previous experiment with the L1 gene, and only the L1 gene, suggesting that it is unique. It is theorized that the L1 gene has greater mobility in mice with neglected parents due to methylation – “the pattern of chemical marks on DNA that signals whether genes should or should not be copied, and that can be influenced by environmental factors.” Offspring with attentive mothers had noticeably fewer methylated L1 genes than those who had neglectful mothers. This is the first step in starting to understand how children are effected as they get older when they’ve had neglectful parents. Next, researchers have to understand which parts of the brain become effected, such as memory, emotion, cognitive processing, etc.
Personally, I found this article really interesting because I am a neuroscience major and my life goal is to either
1. Understand the biological differences in the brain and how they effect brain development, especially in those who develop mental illnesses or neuropsychiatric conditions
2. Study and understand the differences in brain functioning and chemical processing in murderers and what, if anything, can be predictive in future psychopaths
I am very open about the mental illnesses that I battle and have always wanted to understand why I am so different than others. To be more specific, I’ve wanted to find out my chemical deficiencies and the size and activity of certain areas of the brain that I struggle with most (i.e. emotions, memory, and sleep).
Here is the article.