A mid-year selection of epigenetic topics

Here are the most popular of the 65 posts I’ve made so far in 2018, starting from the earliest:

The pain societies instill into children

DNA methylation and childhood adversity

Epigenetic mechanisms of muscle memory

Sex-specific impacts of childhood trauma

Sleep and adult brain neurogenesis

This dietary supplement is better for depression symptoms than placebo

The epigenetic clock theory of aging

A flying human tethered to a monkey

Immune memory in the brain

The lack of oxygen’s epigenetic effects on a fetus

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Dead physiological science zombified by psychological research

This 2017 Massachusetts human review described one example of psychological research continuing to misinterpret measurements for hypotheses that have been rejected for physiological research:

“The current paper is a case study examining what happens to psychological research when its foundational biological context is invalidated or superseded. The example we use is heart rate variability (HRV) as a purported measure of cardiac sympathetic outflow.

The hypotheses in question are of direct relevance to fields including biological psychology, psychophysiology, and social neuroscience that use physiological measurements to answer applied questions with broader social scientific relevance. A broad base of further evidence was amassed within human cardiac, circulatory, and autonomic physiology such that the hypotheses do not work as described.

These were important and popular metrics, they attracted appropriate scrutiny, and were subsequently discarded. The above reflects well on the scientific process within basic research. The present ensuing period of ‘life after death’ within applied research does not.

It has been widely used as a dependent variable in studies of emotion, panic, stress, attentional state, health status in psychological science.

If the criteria for publishing a scientific article is simply that the measured results resolve to be statistically significant, an unstable measurement of an unstable phenomenon is an excellent vehicle for engineering differences between groups, especially considering the substantial flexibility in modern publication practices.”


Factors facilitating the misinterpretation of heart rate variability include:

  • A 30-year chain of citations similar to what Using citations to develop beliefs instead of evidence found.
  • Measurements are convenient and inexpensive (like salivary cortisol):

    “HRV measurement lacks barriers to collection – measurement is possible during movement and activities of daily living, is easily capable of taking multiple sequential measurements without participant fatigue, and is suitable for long-term recordings. It is also inexpensive, due to multiple commercially available hardware platforms and free software analysis programs.”

  • The experimental concept is easily explained to sponsors.

https://psyarxiv.com/637ym “Dead Science in Live Psychology: A Case Study from Heart Rate Variability (HRV)”

A dietary supplement that reversed age-related hearing problems in the brainstem

This 2018 Nevada rodent study was on acetyl-L-carnitine’s action in the brainstem:

“We examined age-related changes in the efficiency of synaptic transmission at the calyx of Held, from juvenile adults (1-month old) and late middle-age (18- to 21-month old) mice. The calyx of Held synapse has been exploited as a model for understanding excitation-secretion coupling in central glutamatergic neurons, and is specialized for high-frequency transmission as part of a timing circuit for sound localization.

Our observations suggest that during aging, there is neuronal cell loss in the MNTB [Medial nucleus of the trapezoid body, a collection of brainstem nuclei in an area that’s the first recipient of sound and equilibrium information], similar to previous reports. In remaining synapses of the MNTB, we observed severe impairments in transmission timing and SV [synaptic vesicle] recycling, resulting in timing errors and increased synaptic depression in the calyx of Held synapse. These defects reduce the efficacy of this synapse to encode temporally sensitive information and are likely to result in diminished sound localization.

We orally administered ALCAR for 1 month and found that it reversed transmission defects at the calyx of Held synapse in the older mice.

These results support the concept that facilitators of mitochondrial metabolism and antioxidants may be an extremely effective therapy to increase synaptic function and restore short-term plasticity in aged brains, and provide for the first time a clear mechanism of action for ALCAR on activity-dependent synaptic transmission.


Human brainstem research is neglected, as noted by Advance science by including emotion in research. Evidence from such research doesn’t play well with beliefs in the popular models and memes of human cerebral dominance.

Do you know any “late middle-age” people who have obvious auditory and synaptic deficits? What if some of the neurobiological causes of what’s wrong in their brains could be “reversed by ALCAR?”

Before using this study as a guide, however, I asked the study’s researchers to calculate the human-equivalent dosage. When I translated the “daily dose of ~2.9 g/kg/d” it worked out to several hundred times the 500 mg to 1 g dietary supplement dosage of acetyl-L-carnitine.

The study’s corresponding coauthor replied:

“This is indeed much larger than that normally consumed by humans via dietary supplementation. We are currently working to determine the effective ‘minimal’ dose of ALCAR and alpha lipoic acid, to better assist guidelines for human application of this supplement.”

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323941877_Age-related_defects_in_short-term_plasticity_are_reversed_by_acetyl-L-carnitine_at_the_mouse_calyx_of_Held “Age-related defects in short-term plasticity are reversed by acetyl-L-carnitine at the mouse calyx of Held”

Resiliency in stress responses

This 2018 US Veterans Administration review subject was resiliency and stress responses:

Neurobiological and behavioral responses to stress are highly variable. Exposure to a similar stressor can lead to heterogeneous outcomes — manifesting psychopathology in one individual, but having minimal effect, or even enhancing resilience, in another.

We highlight aspects of stress response modulation related to early life development and epigenetics, selected neurobiological and neurochemical systems, and a number of emotional, cognitive, psychosocial, and behavioral factors important in resilience.”

The review cited studies I’ve previously curated:


There were two things I didn’t understand about this review. The first was why the paper isn’t freely available. It’s completely paid for by the US taxpayer, and no copyright is claimed. I recommend contacting the authors for a copy.

The second was why the VA hasn’t participated in either animal or human follow-on studies to the 2015 Northwestern University GABAergic mechanisms regulated by miR-33 encode state-dependent fear. That study’s relevance to PTSD, this review’s subject, and the VA’s mission is too important to ignore. For example:

“Fear-inducing memories can be state dependent, meaning that they can best be retrieved if the brain states at encoding and retrieval are similar.

“It’s difficult for therapists to help these patients,” Radulovic said, “because the patients themselves can’t remember their traumatic experiences that are the root cause of their symptoms.”

The findings imply that in response to traumatic stress, some individuals, instead of activating the glutamate system to store memories, activate the extra-synaptic GABA system and form inaccessible traumatic memories.”

I curated the research in A study that provided evidence for basic principles of Primal Therapy. These researchers have published several papers since then. Here are the abstracts from three of them:

Experimental Methods for Functional Studies of microRNAs in Animal Models of Psychiatric Disorders

“Pharmacological treatments for psychiatric illnesses are often unsuccessful. This is largely due to the poor understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying these disorders. We are particularly interested in elucidating the mechanism of affective disorders rooted in traumatic experiences.

To date, the research of mental disorders in general has focused on the causal role of individual genes and proteins, an approach that is inconsistent with the proposed polygenetic nature of these disorders. We recently took an alternative direction, by establishing the role of miRNAs in the coding of stress-related, fear-provoking memories.

Here we describe in detail our work on the role of miR-33 in state-dependent learning, a process implicated in dissociative amnesia, wherein memories formed in a certain brain state can best be retrieved if the brain is in the same state. We present the specific experimental approaches we apply to study the role of miRNAs in this model and demonstrate that miR-33 regulates the susceptibility to state-dependent learning induced by inhibitory neurotransmission.”

Neurobiological mechanisms of state-dependent learning

“State-dependent learning (SDL) is a phenomenon relating to information storage and retrieval restricted to discrete states. While extensively studied using psychopharmacological approaches, SDL has not been subjected to rigorous neuroscientific study.

Here we present an overview of approaches historically used to induce SDL, and highlight some of the known neurobiological mechanisms, in particular those related to inhibitory neurotransmission and its regulation by microRNAs (miR).

We also propose novel cellular and circuit mechanisms as contributing factors. Lastly, we discuss the implications of advancing our knowledge on SDL, both for most fundamental processes of learning and memory as well as for development and maintenance of psychopathology.”

Neurobiological correlates of state-dependent context fear

“Retrieval of fear memories can be state-dependent, meaning that they are best retrieved if the brain states at encoding and retrieval are similar. Such states can be induced by activating extrasynaptic γ-aminobutyric acid type A receptors (GABAAR) with the broad α-subunit activator gaboxadol. However, the circuit mechanisms and specific subunits underlying gaboxadol’s effects are not well understood.

Here we show that gaboxadol induces profound changes of local and network oscillatory activity, indicative of discoordinated hippocampal-cortical activity, that were accompanied by robust and long-lasting state-dependent conditioned fear. Episodic memories typically are hippocampus-dependent for a limited period after learning, but become cortex-dependent with the passage of time.

In contrast, state-dependent memories continued to rely on hippocampal GABAergic mechanisms for memory retrieval. Pharmacological approaches with α- subunit-specific agonists targeting the hippocampus implicated the prototypic extrasynaptic subunits (α4) as the mediator of state-dependent conditioned fear.

Together, our findings suggest that continued dependence on hippocampal rather than cortical mechanisms could be an important feature of state-dependent memories that contributes to their conditional retrieval.”


Here’s an independent 2017 Netherlands/UC San Diego review that should bring these researchers’ efforts to the VA’s attention:

MicroRNAs in Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

“Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can develop following exposure to or witnessing of a (potentially) threatening event. A critical issue is to pinpoint the (neuro)biological mechanisms underlying the susceptibility to stress-related disorder such as PTSD, which develops in the minority of ~15% of individuals exposed to trauma.

Over the last few years, a first wave of epigenetic studies has been performed in an attempt to identify the molecular underpinnings of the long-lasting behavioral and mental effects of trauma exposure. The potential roles of non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) such as microRNAs (miRNAs) in moderating or mediating the impact of severe stress and trauma are increasingly gaining attention. To date, most studies focusing on the roles of miRNAs in PTSD have, however, been completed in animals, using cross-sectional study designs and focusing almost exclusively on subjects with susceptible phenotypes.

Therefore, there is a strong need for new research comprising translational and cross-species approaches that use longitudinal designs for studying trajectories of change contrasting susceptible and resilient subjects. The present review offers a comprehensive overview of available studies of miRNAs in PTSD and discusses the current challenges, pitfalls, and future perspectives of this field.”

Here’s a 2017 Netherlands human study that similarly merits the US Veterans Administration’s attention:

Circulating miRNA associated with posttraumatic stress disorder in a cohort of military combat veterans

“Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects many returning combat veterans, but underlying biological mechanisms remain unclear. In order to compare circulating micro RNA (miRNA) of combat veterans with and without PTSD, peripheral blood from 24 subjects was collected following deployment, and isolated miRNA was sequenced.

PTSD was associated with 8 differentially expressed miRNA. Pathway analysis shows that PTSD is related to the axon guidance and Wnt signaling pathways, which work together to support neuronal development through regulation of growth cones. PTSD is associated with miRNAs that regulate biological functions including neuronal activities, suggesting that they play a role in PTSD symptomatology.”


See the below comments for reasons why I downgraded this review’s rating.

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11920-018-0887-x “Stress Response Modulation Underlying the Psychobiology of Resilience” (not freely available)

Faith-tainted epigenetics

This 2018 Loma Linda review subject was epigenetic interventions for aging:

“Epigenomic markers of aging, global DNA hypomethylation and promoter-specific hypermethylation may be engendered by iron and HCys [homocysteine] retention.

MiR-29/p53 axis may reverse age-related methylomic shifts, stabilizing both the genome and the epigenome, therefore removing a major risk factor of neurodegeneration. Lowering iron and HCys overload can be accomplished via chelation, blood donation and maintaining an adequate omega-6/omega-3 ratio.”


Sometimes it’s difficult to detect researchers’ biases. If a reader didn’t know about the funding sponsor’s mission:

“Each day we seek to extend the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus Christ”

they may view this paper as unbiased rather than as a directed narrative.

Consider the sponsor’s influence from the perspective of someone seeking treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. If a doctor in this review sponsor’s hospital system recommended chelation treatment, hope would be generated for the patient. Adopting the doctor’s belief about the treatment, though, would be contrary to other evidence per this review:

“In 2008, the NIH chelation trial stopped enrolling patients, approximately two years early.

There is no indication for exposing patients with dementia to the risks of chelation therapy because current chelators cannot help them.”

After reading another review that had this sponsor – The lack of oxygen’s epigenetic effects on a fetus – which also reflected the influence of the sponsor’s biases, and had a directed narrative that ignored evidence contradicting the narrative, and involved storytelling, I’m done curating any paper sponsored by this institution.

http://www.nrronline.org/downloadpdf.asp?issn=1673-5374;year=2018;volume=13;issue=4;spage=635;epage=636;aulast=Sfera;type=2 “Epigenetic interventions for brain rejuvenation: anchoring age-related transposons” (click the pdf button)

A flying human tethered to a monkey

Ponder this drone photo of “a flying human tethered to a monkey” ground drawing made over 1,000 years ago as reported by National Geographic and excerpted by the Daily Star:
Flying human tethered to a monkey


Aren’t the geoglyph and its description pretty good expressions of our evolved condition? Especially since it’s the interpretation of people who lived more a millennium ago?

With so many information sources freely available now, one couldn’t successfully argue that they understood the world better than we do, though. The price paid for figuring things out today is our “flying human” time and efforts, without which we’re as ignorant as our “monkey.”

A few aspects of the current comprehension of the differences between our two pictured primates are in Genetic imprinting, sleep, and parent-offspring conflict:

“I remain skeptical of a tendency to ascribe most modern woes to incongruence between our evolved nature and western cultural practices. We did not evolve to be happy or healthy but to leave genetic descendants, and an undue emphasis on mismatch risks conflating health and fitness [genetic rather than physical fitness].”

Our “flying human” can make happiness and health choices that our “monkey” can’t:

Our genetic adaptations often try to fool us into doing things that enhance fitness at costs to our happiness.

Our genes do not care about us and we should have no compunction about fooling them to deliver benefits without serving their ends.

Contraception, to take one obvious example, allows those who choose childlessness to enjoy the pleasures of sexual activity without the fitness-enhancing risk of conception.”

Other aspects of each of our two pictured primates’ differences are illuminated in a reference to A study of DNA methylation and age:

“Aging is not and cannot be programmed. Instead, aging is a continuation of developmental growth, driven by genetic pathways.

Genetic programs determine developmental growth and the onset of reproduction. When these programs are completed, they are not switched off.

Aging has no purpose (neither for individuals nor for group), no intention. Nature does not select for quasi-programs. It selects for robust developmental growth.”

The epigenetic clock theory of aging cited the same author, and modified his point to say:

“The proposed epigenetic clock theory of ageing views biological ageing as an unintended consequence of both developmental programmes and maintenance programmes.”

Finally, our “flying human” can make choices that aren’t available to our “monkey” concerning the structure, direction, and duration of our one precious life:

“What are you doing to reverse epigenetic processes and realize what you want? Do you have ideas and/or behaviors that interfere with taking constructive actions to change your phenotype?”

The epigenetic clock theory of aging

My 400th blog post curates a 2018 US/UK paper by two of the coauthors of Using an epigenetic clock to distinguish cellular aging from senescence. The authors reviewed the current state of epigenetic clock research, and proposed a new theory of aging:

“The proposed epigenetic clock theory of ageing views biological ageing as an unintended consequence of both developmental programmes and maintenance programmes, the molecular footprints of which give rise to DNAm [DNA methylation] age estimators.

It is best to interpret epigenetic age estimates as a higher-order property of a large number of CpGs much in the same way that the temperature of a gas is a higher-order property that reflects the average kinetic energy of the underlying molecules. This interpretation does not imply that DNAm age simply measures entropy across the entire genome.

To date, the most effective in vitro intervention against epigenetic ageing is achieved through expression of Yamanaka factors, which convert somatic cells into pluripotent stem cells, thereby completely resetting the epigenetic clock. In vivo, haematopoietic stem cell therapy resets the epigenetic age of blood of the recipient to that of the donor.

Future epidemiological studies should consider other sources of DNA (for example, buccal cells), because more powerful estimates of organismal age can be obtained by evaluating multiple tissues. Other types of epigenetic modifications such as adenine methylation or histone modifications may lend themselves for developing epigenetic age estimators.”


I’ve previously curated four other papers cited in this review:


The challenge is: do you want your quality of life to be under or over this curve?

What are you doing to reverse epigenetic processes and realize what you want? Do you have ideas and/or behaviors that interfere with taking constructive actions to change your phenotype?

If you aren’t doing anything, are you honest with yourself about the personal roots of beliefs in fate/feelings of helplessness? Do beliefs in technological or divine interventions provide justifications for inactions?

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41576-018-0004-3 “DNA methylation-based biomarkers and the epigenetic clock theory of ageing” (not freely available)