DNA, the helix structured molecule is what contains our genetic coding and is basically what makes you who you are. Present in all living organisms, it carries instructions regarding all aspects of life like growth, development, and reproduction. Although the make-up of it largely depends upon nature, for example, a child born with black hair because both the parents had black hair. There is research that proves early Life experiences can impact DNA in the adult brains.
Human development is a dynamic process that involves an interplay between nature and nurture. The latter can have very lasting effects on the neurobiological structure and leave an impact on behavioral characteristics. For example, a child with an abusive or neglectful early life is more likely to develop stress disorders. In worst case scenarios, children with a bad childhood can even grow up to become psychopaths. The Michigan serial killer, Aileen Wuornos, is one of the examples where an abusive childhood leads to creating a psychopath who murdered 7 men.
But how does it work exactly? As opposed to earlier beliefs the DNA is not set in stone and can dynamically alter itself. It is an epigenetic factor that is greatly influenced by the environment in which it thrives. With evidence drawn majorly from rodent studies, it showed how the variation in postnatal parent and offspring interactions highlight evidence of epigenetic changes in the brain in early life.
A number of these changes in the DNA happen because of the jumping-genes or LINES/L1. The brain is a genomic mosaic and the Long Interspersed Nuclear Elements –LINES move around within it. Researchers have found that the L1 can also get inside the neuronal brain cells that are developing. This not only creates helpful diversity among brain cells but can also lead to neuropsychiatric conditions. A study on mice revealed how rodents with neglectful mothers had more of the jumping-gene L1 and therefore more diverse brains. Whereas, rodents who got more maternal care had less of it. The study focused on the hippocampus of the offspring’s, the area of the brain involved in controlling emotions, memory, and some involuntary functions.
So to sum it up more stress caused in early life leads to genes moving around more, as a result, altering the epigenetic factors. This finding agrees with the study that a neglectful childhood can cause patterns of DNA methylation to alter. However, it is also something that you can see as hope and a chance to alter the contributing factors that cause problems in adult life.