Epigenetic Changes in FKBP5 Gene in Children with Abusive vs Accidental Injuries Found by Study at Lurie Children’s Hospital
Comparing epigenetic changes in FKBP5, a gene related to stress response, between children with abusive and accidental injuries.
Research conducted at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago has uncovered epigenetic changes in the regulation of a key gene associated with the body's stress response in babies and young children who were injured as a result of abuse, but not accidental injury.
The study, published in the journal Pediatric Research, is the first to find epigenetic changes in the FKBP5 gene at the time of diagnosis in cases of abuse, regardless of injury severity, socioeconomic status, or psychosocial risk factors.
The researchers initially examined data from an observational study involving mothers reading a picture book to their children at 12 months. The interactions between the mothers and their children were scored based on warmth. The warmth they showed only varied slightly, with the most reserved behavior classified as awkward or neutral. This was precisely what the researchers intended to test: whether even minuscule differences in social interaction can be associated with an epigenetic alteration.
The observed behavior was then compared against data from an epigenetic analysis of the children's blood samples taken at age seven. The researchers discovered a slight elevation in methylation on the NR3C1 gene when mothers exhibited awkward or neutral behavior towards their infant.
The researchers then conducted a cross-sectional pilot study of acutely injured children under four years old at two children's hospitals. The injuries were classified by an expert panel as being either abusive, accidental, or indeterminate. To assess the DNA methylation of the FKBP5 gene (which controls gene activity through chemical modifications), cheek swabs and blood samples were collected.
The researchers found that children with abusive injuries had lower methylation of the FKBP5 gene promoter area, which typically correlates with increased gene expression.
“The dysregulation of the stress gene we observed at diagnosis suggests that the biological response to abuse starts very early,” said Dr. Mary Clyde Pierce, Emergency Medicine physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Interventions at an early stage may have the potential to reverse the epigenetic changes to the stress system. Further research is necessary in order to validate our discoveries and potentially discover an epigenetic signature to determine if interventions are effective.
0. “Neutral maternal behaviour linked with epigenetic changes in children: Study” Devdiscourse, 3 Mar. 2023, https://www.devdiscourse.com/article/health/2366569-neutral-maternal-behaviour-linked-with-epigenetic-changes-in-children-study
1. “Small Differences in Mom’s Behavior May Show Up in Child’s Epigenome” Neuroscience News, 3 Mar. 2023, https://neurosciencenews.com/epigenetics-maternal-behavior-22705/
2. “Epigenetic changes in the regulation of key stress gene detected in kids with abusive injuries” News-Medical.Net, 2 Mar. 2023, https://www.news-medical.net/news/20230302/Epigenetic-changes-in-the-regulation-of-key-stress-gene-detected-in-kids-with-abusive-injuries.aspx
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