How Our Parents' Stress Can Affect Our DNA

It turns out that experiencing stress can influence our DNA--and these changes in DNA expression can be passed on to the next generation even without directly changing any part of the DNA sequence. In today's issue of Cell, researchers explain how this is possible and what it means for diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and schizophrenia.

The human genome is packaged into a structure called chromatin, which plays a role in determining how the DNA proteins are ultimately read and expressed. Portions of our genome are wound even more tightly into heterochromatin, structures that usually don't contain active genes and maintained over generations. A particular gene, ATF-2, is necessary for the formation of heterochromatin in multicellular organisms, and ATF-2 can be altered in response to stressful conditions. This stress-induced alteration disrupts the formation of heterochromatin and allows genes to be expressed that would otherwise remain silent. These changes are then passed on to future generations.

Researchers know this is true for some multicellular animals, namely fruit flies, and expect that it holds true for humans as well. If so, currently existing drugs that modify AFT-2 in response to stress may prove useful in treating diseases that might have epigenetic causes, such as schizophrenia.

Read more: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/229536.php

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