Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Stressful environments genetically affect African American boys

Date:
April 9, 2014
Source:
Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
Summary:
Stressful upbringings can leave imprints on the genes of children, including African-American boys, according to a study. Such chronic stress during youth leads to physiological weathering similar to aging. "African American children have really not yet been studied through this context," said a co-author. "Previous work has mostly focused on middle-class whites. Our study takes a different approach and really highlights the importance of early intervention to moderate disparities in social and educational opportunities."

African American boys growing up in disadvantaged environments have shorter telomeres -- DNA sequences related to aging -- than their advantaged peers by age 9, a Wilson School study shows. Telomeres live at the end of chromosomes, which are found in cells. They vary in length by person, shrinking with age. Growing up in disadvantaged environments quicken this process for black boys, causing physiological weathering.
Credit: Ticiana Jardim Marini/Woodrow Wilson School

Stressful upbringings can leave imprints on the genes of children as young as age 9, according to a study led by Princeton University and Pennsylvania State University researchers. Such chronic stress during youth leads to physiological weathering similar to aging.

Related Articles


A study of 40 9-year-old black boys, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that those who grow up in disadvantaged environments have shorter telomeres -- DNA sequences that generally shrink with age -- than their advantaged peers. The researchers also report that boys with genetic sensitivities to their environment have shorter telomeres after experiencing stressful social environments than the telomeres of boys without the genetic sensitivities. These sensitivities are based on gene variants related to the serotonin and dopamine pathways -- neurotransmitters essential for relaying information between the brain and body.

"African American children have really not yet been studied through this context," said co-author Sara McLanahan, Princeton's William S. Tod Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs. "Previous work has mostly focused on middle-class whites. Our study takes a different approach and really highlights the importance of early intervention to moderate disparities in social and educational opportunities."

The research team was led by Daniel Notterman, lead author and a visiting professor of molecular biology at Princeton and vice dean for research and graduate studies at the Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine, and comprised of collaborators from Columbia University, the University of Michigan and the University of York in the United Kingdom. The team analyzed data collected by the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a Princeton and Columbia study pioneered by McLanahan that includes 5,000 children born in 20 large American cities with populations over 200,000 people between 1998 and 2000. These children and their parents, who come from a wide range of social backgrounds, were interviewed at regular intervals between the child's birth and age 9. Saliva DNA samples were collected when the children were 9 years old.

The researchers wanted to focus on African American boys because past studies have shown that boys may be more sensitive to their environment. They restricted their sample to 40 boys who participated in the Fragile Families study and met the following criteria: they had provided saliva samples at age 9; their mothers self-identified as black or African American; and complete information was provided about their social environments. Of the sample, half of the boys were raised in disadvantaged environments, which the researchers characterized by such factors as a low household income, low maternal education, an unstable family structure and harsh parenting.

To measure telomere length, the researchers analyzed the saliva DNA provided by the boys. These telomeres, which live at the end of each chromosome, protect the ends from damage and vary in length by person, shrinking with age. Through their analysis, the researchers found that living in a disadvantaged environment was associated with 19 percent shorter telomeres by age 9. For boys predisposed to being sensitive to their environment, this negative association was even stronger.

"Our report is the first to examine the interactions between genes and social environments using telomeres as a biomarker," Notterman said. "We also demonstrate the utility of using saliva DNA to measure children's telomere length. This is important because most telomere research uses blood, which is much more difficult to collect than saliva. Using saliva is easier and less expensive, allowing researchers to collect telomere samples at various points in time to see how social environment may be affecting DNA."

Arline Geronimus, a professor at the University of Michigan who studies population health but was not involved in the study, said this work adds to the growing body of research related to the role of chronic stress in health inequalities, especially among the poor. Geronimus, a pioneer in research on physiological weathering, said she was particularly struck by how quickly the effects of chronic stress can be seen.

"I think it's very striking that these findings are in children at age 9, because you are talking about accelerated aging or stress-mediated wear and tear on your body, which make you more vulnerable to all kinds of illnesses and diseases. To say that you can see this by 9 years old is a very strong statement," Geronimus said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The original article was written by B. Rose Huber. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. C. Mitchell, J. Hobcraft, S. S. McLanahan, S. R. Siegel, A. Berg, J. Brooks-Gunn, I. Garfinkel, D. Notterman. Social disadvantage, genetic sensitivity, and children's telomere length. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1404293111

Cite This Page:

Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. "Stressful environments genetically affect African American boys." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140409103331.htm>.
Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. (2014, April 9). Stressful environments genetically affect African American boys. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140409103331.htm
Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. "Stressful environments genetically affect African American boys." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140409103331.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

IKEA Desk Converts From Standing to Sitting With One Button

IKEA Desk Converts From Standing to Sitting With One Button

Buzz60 (Oct. 24, 2014) IKEA is out with a new convertible desk that can convert from a sitting desk to a standing one with just the push of a button. Jen Markham explains. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola Protective Suits Being Made in China

Ebola Protective Suits Being Made in China

AFP (Oct. 24, 2014) A factory in China is busy making Ebola protective suits for healthcare workers and others fighting the spread of the virus. Duration: 00:38 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
WHO: Millions of Ebola Vaccine Doses by 2015

WHO: Millions of Ebola Vaccine Doses by 2015

AP (Oct. 24, 2014) The World Health Organization said on Friday that millions of doses of two experimental Ebola vaccines could be ready for use in 2015 and five more experimental vaccines would start being tested in March. (Oct. 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Doctor in NYC Quarantined With Ebola

Doctor in NYC Quarantined With Ebola

AP (Oct. 24, 2014) An emergency room doctor who recently returned to the city after treating Ebola patients in West Africa has tested positive for the virus. He's quarantined in a hospital. (Oct. 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins