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Behavioral epigenetics

– Background: – Epigenetics studies heritable changes in gene activity not caused by DNA sequence changes. – DNA methylation and histone modification are mechanisms altering […]

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– Background:
– Epigenetics studies heritable changes in gene activity not caused by DNA sequence changes.
– DNA methylation and histone modification are mechanisms altering gene expression.
– Epigenetic changes impact an organism’s development and can be passed to offspring.
– Modifications in the epigenome do not change DNA but control gene expression.
– Histone modification affects how DNA is packaged into chromosomes, influencing gene expression.

– Discovery:
– Meaney and Szyf found nurturing in early life affects stress response in rats.
– Methylation in the glucocorticoid receptor gene promoter region impacts stress sensitivity.
– Epigenetic changes from nurturing behaviors affect gene expression and stress response.
– Replicating rodent studies in humans is challenging due to a lack of brain tissue availability.
– Epigenetic changes can have lasting effects on behavior throughout an organism’s life.

– Research into Epigenetics in Psychology:
– Anxiety and Risk-taking:
– Epigenetic differences in DNA methylation correlated with risk-taking behaviors in twins.
– Twin studies help reveal epigenetic variations related to psychology.
– Epigenetic markers are associated with personality traits but cannot predict complex decisions.
– Differences in behavior were linked to methylation near the DLX1 gene.
– Epigenetic differences can influence reactions to stress and risk-taking behaviors.

– Stress:
– Poor care during infancy correlates with epigenetic changes affecting long-term impairments.
– Maternal care in rats correlates with epigenetic changes and stress response.
– Epigenetic variations in parental care can be passed down through generations.
– Offspring experiencing high levels of licking show reduced stress response.
– Prenatal exposure to maternal mood can affect genetic expression and stress reactivity in offspring.

– Impact on Behavior:
– Epigenetic changes influence gene expression and behavior.
– Neuron growth and function can be affected by epigenetic modifications.
– Environmental experiences can shape gene expression through epigenetic mechanisms.
– Epigenetic changes in neuron structure and function can alter an organism’s behavior.
– Individual differences in behavior, cognition, and mental health can be influenced by epigenetics.

– Future Research:
– Longitudinal studies are essential to understand the impact of early caregiving.
– Drugs can alter methylation levels, providing further evidence of epigenetic mechanisms.
– Parental care variations can lead to different caregiving behaviors in offspring.
– Epigenetic changes from prenatal exposure to mood can impact stress reactivity.
– Understanding epigenetic variations is crucial for predicting and managing behavior and mental health.

Behavioral epigenetics (Wikipedia)

Behavioral epigenetics is the field of study examining the role of epigenetics in shaping animal and human behavior. It seeks to explain how nurture shapes nature, where nature refers to biological heredity and nurture refers to virtually everything that occurs during the life-span (e.g., social-experience, diet and nutrition, and exposure to toxins). Behavioral epigenetics attempts to provide a framework for understanding how the expression of genes is influenced by experiences and the environment to produce individual differences in behaviour, cognition, personality, and mental health.

Epigenetic gene regulation involves changes other than to the sequence of DNA and includes changes to histones (proteins around which DNA is wrapped) and DNA methylation. These epigenetic changes can influence the growth of neurons in the developing brain as well as modify the activity of neurons in the adult brain. Together, these epigenetic changes in neuron structure and function can have a marked influence on an organism's behavior.

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