A review of the epigenetic basis for mental illness

This 2015 New York combined animal and human review of epigenetic studies noted:

“While genetic factors are important in the etiology of most mental disorders, the relatively high rates of discordance among identical twins, particularly for depression and other stress-related syndromes, clearly indicate the importance of additional mechanisms.

Environmental factors such as stress are known to play a role in the onset of these illnesses.

Exposure to such environmental insults induces stable changes in gene expression, neural circuit function, and ultimately behavior, and these maladaptations appear distinct between developmental versus adult exposures.

Increasing evidence indicates that these sustained abnormalities are maintained by epigenetic modifications in specific brain regions.”

Placing the “maladaptations” and “sustained abnormalities” phrases into their contexts:

  • A fetus biologically adapted to their environment – however toxic it was – in order to best survive.
  • These adaptations for survival were subsequently viewed as Disrupted Neurodevelopment and “maladaptations” from the perspectives of normal development and environments.
  • The “sustained abnormalities” caused within the earlier environments persisted. An improved environment in and of itself wasn’t impetus enough to change earlier adaptations, the so-called “maladaptations.”

Per the below link, it’s been a month since this review was published. Why has there been ZERO news coverage of it?

One reason may be that the Friedman Brain Institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, didn’t issue a press release or otherwise publicize it. Another reason may be the groups that are opposed to its findings:

  • Parents who provided toxic environments for their children, beginning at conception;
  • People who feel threatened when scientific causal evidence resonates with what happened in their own lives, and in response, limit their empathetic understanding of others’ problems;
  • Social workers, psychologists, and others in industries whose paychecks depend on efforts that aren’t directed towards ameliorating the causes for these later-life effects;
  • Psychiatrists and medical personnel whose livelihoods depend on pharmaceutical and other treatments that only alleviate symptoms;
  • Researchers whose funding depends on producing non-etiologic findings.

Despite such resistance to this review’s findings, a large number of people would benefit from publicizing evidence for:

“These sustained abnormalities are maintained by epigenetic modifications in specific brain regions.”

http://nro.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/09/24/1073858415608147 “Epigenetic Basis of Mental Illness”

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Grokking an Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score

What does it take to empathetically understand, to make a part of oneself, to grok an ACE score?

The ACE effort was initiated in 1985 in an era before epigenetics was well-studied. Its artifacts include the ACE pyramid:

The_ACE_PyramidThe historical ACE lifespan continuum on the left began at conception. The pyramid on the right promoted a limited view of ACE that assigned childhood as the pyramid’s base.

Current official depictions of the ACE pyramid assign an expanded view of ACE as the pyramid’s base. The viewer’s attention is directed to “Scientific Gaps” between pyramid layers, but the largest gap remains: the continuum starts at conception but the pyramid still starts at childhood.

Disrupted Neurodevelopment is omitted from the current official ACE pyramid and discussion altogether, but the narrative claims:

“To provide scientific information that would be useful for developing new and more effective prevention programs.”

The official ACE pyramid doesn’t accurately reflect current science documented in, for example, Epigenetic effects of early life stress exposure. By downplaying Disrupted Neurodevelopment that may begin at conception, the governing agency also implicitly endorses approaches that fail to address prenatal causes for later-life adverse effects.


If the ACE diagram was drawn in 2015 to incorporate evidence for epigenetics, Disrupted Neurodevelopment wouldn’t be a consequent layer to an ACE base. Disrupted Neurodevelopment would be represented by a triangle based at conception:Updated for 2015 to show Disrupted Neurodevelopment

What’s an example of current ACE-related scientific evidence that wasn’t present three decades ago and also isn’t represented in the official ACE pyramid?

Prenatal Disrupted Neurodevelopment may be considered today as a possible consequence of a “Yes” answer to half of the original ACE questions:

  • Were your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor?
  • Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
  • Was your mother often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her?
  • Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs?
  • Was a household member depressed or mentally ill?

These threats and other stresses cause a fetus to biologically adapt. Because such adaptations occur at the earliest and most important stages of development, they usually:

  • Have much larger impacts and
  • Cause Biological Impairments that
  • Don’t unassistedly disappear over time.

Restoring ACE emphasis on Disrupted Neurodevelopment would encourage:

  • Research that’s directed toward producing causal evidence for adaptations that largely occur during the early periods of an individual’s lifespan; and
  • Research on how these adaptations consistently influence our later-life ideas, biology, and behavior.

The above recommendations for research are neither the current focus of ACE research nor the direction of related efforts to assist affected individuals. Relevant studies that I’ve curated on this blog often only produced symptomatic evidence. If a study couched its findings in non-etiologic phrases such as “is associated with” or “is linked to” or “may relate to,” it didn’t address ACE originating causes.

“New and more effective prevention programs” seldom address Biological Impairments with efforts to reduce the source of the damage. At best, they only alleviate the symptoms. If a program’s presentation showed multivariate analyses with ACE score probabilities and percentages, it didn’t address originating causes.


So, what does it take to empathetically understand, to make a part of oneself, to grok a person’s ACE score?

It’s best to avoid the advice of studies such as:

I feel that people first need to ameliorate the origins of their own problems. Then they may be able to help others therapeutically address causes for ACE symptoms.

Need proof? Think of someone you’ve met whose thoughts and feelings and behavior were caught up in and motivated by their own problems:

  • Did you feel they could empathetically understand others?
  • Wasn’t the welfare of the people who may have been helped truly incidental and secondary to someone who was acting out their own problems?

See my Welcome page for additional discussion of ACE. See Transgenerational epigenetic programming with stress and microRNA for an example of how Disrupted Neurodevelopment that caused epigenetic Biological Impairments can begin immediately after conception. That study didn’t observe the resultant effects of Health and Social Problems until the subjects were adults!

Can a Romanian orphan give informed consent to be an experimental subject?

This 2015 study used Romanian orphans as lab rats for findings of which I failed to see the value. The world didn’t really need any further research to demonstrate that foster care would be better for a child than staying in an orphanage.

The researchers placed the orphans in five separate stressful situations, and measured their cortisol and DHEA-S levels, along with their electrocardiograph and impedance cardiograph activity. The findings were:

“Children who were removed from the Romanian institutions and placed with foster parents before the age of 24 months had stress system responses similar to those of children being raised by families in the community.

The children raised in institutions showed blunted responses in the sympathetic nervous system, associated with the flight or fight response, and in the HPA axis, which regulates cortisol.”

One unsupported assertion from the researchers was:

“We provide evidence for a causal link between the early caregiving environment and stress response system reactivity in humans with effects that differ markedly from those observed in rodent models.”

The researchers stated that rodent studies have converged to find:

“Early-life adversity results in hyperreactivity of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis.”

It’s baloney that the same results from early life adversity in rodents haven’t also been present in humans. Even the lead researcher herself said in a news article:

“More significantly, McLaughlin said, their [the orphans] stress response systems might have been initially hyperactive at earlier points in development, then adapted to high levels of stress hormones.”

The difference was that the rodents were monitored 24/7 until researchers killed and dissected them. The children’s periods of adversity likely started while in the womb, and their lives had been monitored for research purposes sporadically after their births.

Everybody knows that just because adverse events and effects in these children’s lives weren’t recorded by researchers didn’t mean these effects weren’t present at some point.

Particularly irksome was another unsupported assertion from the lead reviewer:

“The children involved in the study are now about 16 years old, and researchers next plan to investigate whether puberty has an impact on their stress responses. It could have a positive effect, McLaughlin said, since puberty might represent another sensitive period when stress response systems are particularly tuned to environmental inputs. “It’s possible that the environment during that period could reverse the impacts of early adversity on the system,” she said.”

No, this is NOT possible. We may as well expect an apple to fall upward.

The impacts of early adversity persist with enduring physiological changes as shown in experimental studies. Studies have NOT provided evidence that the subjects’ environment can cause the effects of complete reversal of all these changes, no matter the stage of life of the subjects.

This point was addressed in The effects of early-life stress are permanent alterations in the child’s brain circuitry and function rodent study:

The current study manipulates the type and timing of a stressor and the specific task and age of testing to parallel early-life stress in humans reared in orphanages.

The results provide evidence of both early and persistent alterations in amygdala circuitry and function following early-life stress.

These effects are not reversed when the stressor is removed nor diminished with the development of prefrontal regulation regions.

That study had the same reviewer as the current study. The current study’s lead researcher knew or should have known of this and other relevant research. She knew or should have known of the irreversibility of critical periods, during which developments either occurred or were forever missed.

Did the lead researcher make assertions not supported by the study or relevant research – assertions made counter to her scientific knowledge – show her unease about treating the orphans as lab rats? Was there was some other agenda in play?

The larger problem was the study’s informed consent with this group of Romanian orphans. If you were in contact with a damaged person, and implicitly gave them hope that you would improve their life, then who are you as a feeling human being when you don’t personally carry through? Does the legal documentation matter?


Also, I’ve noticed problems with several studies that had this particular reviewer:

Add the current study to the list.

http://www.pnas.org/content/112/18/5637.full “Causal effects of the early caregiving environment on development of stress response systems in children”

Do the impacts of early experiences of hunger affect our behavior, thoughts, and feelings today?

This 2015 worldwide human study Hunger promotes acquisition of nonfood objects found that people’s current degree of hungriness affected their propensity to acquire nonfood items.

The researchers admitted that they didn’t demonstrate cause and effect with the five experiments they performed, although the findings had merit. News articles poked good-natured fun at the findings with headlines such as “Why Hungry People Want More Binder Clips.”

The research caught my eye with these statements:

“Hunger’s influence extends beyond food consumption to the acquisition of nonfood items that cannot satisfy the underlying need.

We conclude that a basic biologically based motivation can affect substantively unrelated behaviors that cannot satisfy the motivation.”

The concept of the quotes relates to a principle of Dr. Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy – symbolic satisfaction of needs.


I stated two fundamentals of Primal Therapy in An agenda-driven study on beliefs, smoking and addiction that found nothing of substance:

  1. The physiological impacts of our early unmet needs drive our behavior, thoughts, and feelings.
  2. The painful impacts of our unfulfilled needs ensure that we are on the qui vive, impelled to be constantly vigilant for some way to fulfill them.

Corollary principles of Primal Therapy are:

  • Our present efforts to fulfill our early unmet needs will seldom be satisfying. It’s too late.
  • We acquire substitutes now for what we really needed back then.
  • Acquiring these symbols of our early unmet needs may, at best, temporarily satisfy derivative needs.

But the symbolic satisfaction of derived needs – the symptoms – never resolves the impacts of early unfulfilled needs – the motivating causes:

  • We repeat the acquisition behavior, and get caught in a circle of acting out our feelings and impulses driven by these conditions.
  • The unconscious act-outs become sources of misery both to us and to the people around us.

In his book “Primal Healing” Dr. Arthur Janov gives two examples of critical periods only during which early needs can be satisfied:

  1. Being touched in the first months of life is crucial to a child’s development. The lack of close contact after the age of 5 wouldn’t have the same effect.
  2. Conversely, the need for praise at 6 months of age may not be essential, but it’s crucial for children at age 5.

As this study’s finding showed, there’s every reason for us to want researchers to provide a factual blueprint of causes for our hunger sensation effects, such as:

“Unrelated behaviors that cannot satisfy the motivation.”

Why not start with hunger research? Objectives of the research should include answering:

  • What enduring physiological changes occurred as a result of past hunger?
  • How do these changes affect the subjects’ present behaviors, thoughts, and feelings?

Hunger research that would likely provide causal evidence for the effect of why people acquire:

“Items that cannot satisfy the underlying need”

should include studying where to start the timelines for the impacts of hunger. The impacts would potentially go back at least to infancy when we were completely dependent on our caregivers.

Infants can’t get up to go to the refrigerator to satisfy their hunger. All a hungry infant can do is call attention to their need, and feel pain from the deprivation of their need.

Is infancy far back enough, though, to understand the beginnings of potential impacts of hunger? The Non-PC alert: Treating the mother’s obesity symptoms positively affects the post-surgery offspring study referenced an older study of how the hunger of mothers-to-be had lifelong ill effects for the fetuses they carried during the Dutch hunger winter of 1944. The exposed children had epigenetic DNA changes from their mothers’ starvation, which resulted in relative obesity compared with their unexposed siblings.

An agenda-driven study on beliefs, smoking and addiction that found nothing of substance

The researchers of this 2014 Virginia Tech study said that they found something profound about beliefs and the brain and addiction and smoking.


I’ll assert the short versions of some relevant understandings before assessing the study.

One of the principles of Dr. Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy is: we all have needs that start at the beginning of our lives. Our needs change as we grow. If our basic needs aren’t satisfied anywhere along the way, we feel pain.

When the unmet needs are early in our lives and the painful conditions persist, enduring physiological changes may occur.

This basic truth is supported by the findings of much of the recent research I’ve curated on this blog, the references in those studies, and older research elsewhere.

Another fundamental of Primal Therapy is that the physiological impacts of these unmet needs drive our behavior, thoughts, and feelings.

The painful impacts of our unfulfilled needs ensure that we are on the qui vive, impelled to be constantly vigilant for some way to fulfill them.

This is a richly insightful and truly empathetic method of interpreting people’s behaviors and expressions of thoughts and feelings.

One hypothesis of Primal Therapy is: a major function that our cerebrums have evolutionarily adapted is to use ideas and beliefs to repress pain and make us more comfortable.

I value this inference as an empathetic method of interpreting people’s behaviors and expressions of thoughts and feelings. Click the Beliefs category or tag to view samples of how beliefs, expectations, and predictions are studied using cerebral measurements.


So, what did this study contribute to science about beliefs and the underlying causes of addiction and smoking as found by measuring the subjects’ brains?

Well, nothing new, really. The study was all about the effects, the symptoms.

I saw:

  • Nothing about impelling physical conditions and causes,
  • Nothing about what primarily drives people’s beliefs and addiction behaviors, and
  • Nothing about what may permanently help someone with their need for the next cigarette.

I wonder what the study’s reviewer saw that factually advanced science. Everybody already knew that beliefs can temporarily substitute for addicting substances, and beliefs can temporarily change behaviors. It’s a foundation of AA and detox centers.

It’s also a foundation of AA and detox centers that these beliefs have to be constantly reinforced. That fact in and of itself demonstrates that underlying causes aren’t addressed in the AA and detox center approaches. The symptoms always bubble up, and require thought remedies and other interventions in order to stay suppressed.


What does the following quote from the Significance statement sound like to you?

“Our findings suggest that subjective beliefs can override the physical presence of a powerful drug like nicotine by modulating learning signals processed in the brain’s reward system.”

We know that any therapeutic approach won’t supply the addicting substance, which leaves just the beliefs and their required constant reinforcement. It sounded to me like the research provided details about an approach that wasn’t capable of anything more than temporarily suppressing symptoms.

The unsupported overconfidence of the researchers that:

“The implications of these findings may be far ranging”

led to one of the most ridiculous statements I’ve seen in a while:

“Just as drugs micromanage the belief state,” Montague said, “maybe we can micromanage beliefs to better effect behavior change in addiction.”

This hubris just added to the stench of an agenda. Since smoking isn’t politically correct, I’d guess that it wasn’t that difficult for this study to be funded and promoted. It apparently wasn’t an obstacle that the research neither contributed to advancing science nor to really helping people.

http://www.pnas.org/content/112/8/2539.full “Belief about nicotine selectively modulates value and reward prediction error signals in smokers”

If a study didn’t measure feelings, then its findings may not pertain to genuine empathy

This 2014 UK study tried to show that empathetic actions were very context-dependent. It mainly studied causing overt pain to another person.

The lead researcher stated:

“We were interested in quantifying how much people care about others, relative to themselves. A lack of concern for others’ suffering lies at the heart of many psychiatric disorders such as psychopathy, so developing precise laboratory measures of empathy and altruism will be important for probing the brain processes that underlie antisocial behavior.”

The researchers didn’t provide direct evidence of genuine empathy – the subjects’ limbic system emotions of sensing and sharing the emotions of another person.

The study was designed to cause sensations of pain and draw conclusions about empathetic feelings. The subjects’ limbic system and lower brains were never measured, however.

Why did the researchers decide to only infer these feelings and sensations from actions and reports? Why wasn’t this inferred evidence confirmed with direct measurements of the brain areas that primarily process feelings and sensations?


At no time during the experiment did the subjects see or hear or touch the person whom they caused pain. Wouldn’t it be difficult for the subjects to feel authentic empathy for a disembodied presence?

We’re informed by the Task performance and beliefs about task responses are solely cerebral exercises study that it’s inaccurate to characterize subjects’ task responses as feelings.

We know from the Problematic research: If you don’t feel empathy for a patient, is the solution to fake it? study that people’s cerebrums are easily capable of generating a proxy for empathy.

As a result, I feel that this study’s findings concerning empathy involved inauthentic empathy – the non-feeling, cerebral exercise, faking-it kind.

http://www.pnas.org/content/111/48/17320.full “Harm to others outweighs harm to self in moral decision making”

Do researchers have to be cruel to our fellow primates to adequately research oxytocin?

This 2014 primate study found:

“Oxytocin increased infants’ affiliative communicative gestures and decreased salivary cortisol, and higher oxytocin levels were associated with greater social interest.”

One would have to take an anti-evolutionist stance and believe that primates do not feel what humans feel to consider this process to NOT be cruel:

“To test these macaques, we took advantage of ongoing experiments requiring infants to be separated from their mother on the day of birth. Infants were nursery-reared, housed individually, with a cloth surrogate mother. They could see and hear other infants, but could not touch them.”

We know that primate infants, like humans, need nourishment, transportation, warmth, protection, and socialization from their mothers. What level of findings about oxytocin can a research study make that would justify this deprivation?

It surely isn’t the findings this study makes. We knew without doing the study that getting oxytocin from a nebulizer would be nowhere near an acceptable substitute for a mother’s love.

http://www.pnas.org/content/111/19/6922.full “Inhaled oxytocin increases positive social behaviors in newborn macaques”