Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Children's vulnerability reflected in genes


Public Release: 6-Jan-2015
Duke University

Some children are more sensitive to their environments, for better and for worse. Now Duke University researchers have identified a gene variant that may serve as a marker for these children, who are among society's most vulnerable.


Drawing on two decades worth of data on high-risk first-graders from four locations across the country, the study found that children from high-risk backgrounds who also carried a certain common gene variant were extremely likely to develop serious problems as adults. Left untreated, 75 percent with the gene variant developed psychological problems by age 25, including alcohol abuse, substance abuse and antisocial personality disorder.

The picture changed dramatically, though, when children with the gene variant participated in an intensive program called the Fast Track Project. After receiving support services in childhood, just 18 percent developed psychopathology as adults.

"It's a hopeful finding," Albert said. "The children we studied were very susceptible to stress. But far from being doomed, they were instead particularly responsive to help."

Previous research has suggested that while some children thrive like dandelions in a wide range of circumstances, others are more like orchids who wither or bloom in different environments. The new study suggests that children's different levels of sensitivity are related to differences in their genomes.


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