Child abuse scars: trauma is embedded in DNA research says
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Child abuse scars: trauma is embedded in DNA research says

by Freya Lucas

November 22, 2018

Child abuse may leave molecular “scars” on the DNA of men who have experienced trauma, suggesting that trauma related health problems, both psychological and physical, may have a genetic component, research released last month by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has shown.


The research is significant, particularly to those working with Australian children, because it shows that trauma related health issues can be transmitted through the generations. This research is of particular significance to those working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, where an understanding of generational trauma and collective trauma is of vital importance to working effectively with children and families.


Researchers examined the DNA of the sperm of 22 men who had suffered some sort of abuse as children. In those samples, the scientists found 12 areas of DNA that had undergone methylation, a process by which a structure called a methyl group is added to a strand of DNA and can influence gene function—a change not seen in the DNA of men who had not experienced child abuse. Studies in mice have found that DNA methylation in sperm cells can cause health problems that can be passed onto offspring.


“We already know there are a lot of behavioural mechanisms by which trauma has negative effects on the next generation,” said Andrea Roberts, research scientist at Harvard Chan School and lead author of the study. “Trauma obviously really affects the behaviour of people traumatised. It often makes them depressed, it gives them post-traumatic stress disorder, and those mental health conditions affect their parenting and affect the kids.(sic)”


The new findings suggest another possible pathway by which child abuse can affect offspring, she said.

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