Week 8: Epigenetics
Hi everyone! Welcome back to my blog!
This week I continued my research in epigenetics. Epigenetics refers to changes in gene expression or function that occur without alterations to the underlying DNA sequence. Epigenetic modifications can include the addition or removal of chemical groups to DNA or to the proteins that package DNA and can influence how genes are turned on or off. These changes can be caused by a variety of factors, including environmental exposures, diet, stress, and aging. Epigenetic changes can be inherited from one generation to the next, and research has shown that they can play a role in the development of many diseases, including neurological disorders. In depressive disorders, most changes happen through DNA methylation, which involves the addition of a methyl group to the DNA molecule. It plays a crucial role in gene regulation by affecting the accessibility of genes and influencing their expression. In the context of depression, there is growing evidence to suggest a connection between DNA methylation patterns and the development or manifestation of depressive symptoms.
Research has shown that individuals with depression often exhibit alterations in DNA methylation patterns compared to those without depression. Specifically, changes in DNA methylation can occur in genes involved in various biological processes relevant to depression, including stress response, neuroplasticity, and neurotransmitter signaling. One of the most well-studied examples is the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4), which regulates the reuptake of serotonin, a neurotransmitter implicated in mood regulation. (Chen et, al 2017) Altered DNA methylation patterns in this gene have been associated with depression and its severity, potentially influencing serotonin levels and functioning. Furthermore, studies have identified differential DNA methylation patterns in other genes related to stress response (e.g., FKBP5), neurotrophic factors (e.g., BDNF), and inflammatory processes, all of which have been implicated in depression. (Park et al, 2018)
While the relationship between DNA methylation and depression is still an active area of research, understanding the epigenetic mechanisms underlying depression may provide valuable insights into the biological processes involved and potentially lead to the development of more personalized treatments and interventions.
However, it is important to note that DNA methylation is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding the development of depression. In my recent discussion with Dr. Low, I gained insight into the multifaceted nature of depression, which is influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. The environment, in particular, plays a significant role in mental health, as evidenced by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The widespread changes and reduced face-to-face interactions during this time have led to a surge in depression and anxiety disorders, particularly among adolescents whose brains are actively developing and adapting to the world. Various factors, such as early-life experiences, chronic stress, substance use, and lifestyle choices including diet and exercise, all contribute to the development of depressive disorders. Understanding the complex interplay between these factors is crucial for comprehending the mechanisms underlying depression and developing effective interventions and treatments.
I hope you enjoyed my blog this week! See you next week!