Children who are separated at birth from their biological parents and brought up in orphanages experience biological changes, including differences in gene expression, according to a new study by researchers.
The research highlights differences in DNA methylation, a key regulatory mechanism of gene expression, or genome functioning. The investigators compared two groups of children who had experienced different living arrangements: 14 children raised since birth in institutional care and 14 children raised by their biological parents.
Senior author Dr. Elena Grigorenko, associate professor at the Yale Child Study Center, and her team collected blood samples from children aged 7 to 10 residing in orphanages and children growing up with their biological families in the northwest region of the Russian Federation.
The researchers then profiled the genomes of all the children to determine which biological processes and pathways might be altered by a lack of parental attention and care.
In the institutionalized children, there appeared a greater number of differences in the genetic regulation of the systems controlling immune response and intercellular interactions, including a number of significant mechanisms responsible for the development and function of the brain.
“Our study shows that the early stress of separation from a biological parent impacts long-term programming of genome function; this might explain why adopted children may be particularly vulnerable to harsh parenting in terms of their physical and mental health,” said Grigorenko.
“Parenting adopted children might require much more nurturing care to reverse these changes in genome regulation.”
The study is published online in the current issue of Development and Psychopathology.
Source: Yale University