Last post was all about my wishful thinking that early onset hugs might be the panacea for dementia.
Seems I may not be far off but I’m not ready to lay the blame solely on mom and grandma.
The simplistic version
In a June 2013 article, titled, Grandma’s Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes, (Dan Hurley in Discover Magazine) reports on a line of research that “traces memory loss in old age to epigenetic alterations in brain neurons.”
In a paper entitled, “Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior,” (June 2004, Nature Neuroscience) Biochemistry professor, Aharon Razin, chronicled his team findings on their study of rats showing that maternal care just might be capable of causing changes in DNA methylation. (Methylation is also an important topic for cancer research.)
It’s that touchy hippocampus again.
Methylation “gums up the works and thus alters the function of the brain.”
Less is best when it comes to transcribing the affected gene.
“In this case, methylation associated with miserable mothering prevented the normal number of glucocorticoid receptors from being transcribed in the baby’s hippocampus. And so for want of sufficient glucocorticoid receptors, the rats grew up to be nervous wrecks.”
But, what was startling, was the finding that they were able reverse the damage by infusing rats raised by rotten mothers with trichostatin A, a drug that can remove methyl groups.
“It was crazy to think that injecting it straight into the brain would work,” says Szyf. “But it did. It was like rebooting a computer.”
What does this mean?
I now wish I had continued my Anatomy and Physiology studies in college. My knowledge is negligible on this.
However I do know there are, of course, a quagmire of ethical issues that arise with new findings that alter DNA, however, I agree with the scientists that “if it is true that epigenetic changes to genes active in certain regions of the brain underlie our emotional and intellectual intelligence — our tendency to be calm or fearful, our ability to learn or to forget — then the question arises: Why can’t we just take a drug to rinse away the unwanted methyl groups like a bar of epigenetic Irish Spring?”
For the future, I believe the hunt is still on. One day we will learn how epigenetics will stimulate research on Dementia-related diseases, but for now, what it means is that you should regularly lick your darling rats
(and feed them chocolate) so their hippocampus grows and grows and grows.
Want to know if you’re a nurturing mothering rat? Take the test at Learn. Genetics. Lick Your Rat.
Next week. A poem. I promise.