Can DNA ‘scars’ from child abuse affect future generations?

Child abuse may leave molecular “scars” on the DNA of male survivors, suggesting that health problems related to trauma could conceivably be passed on to future generations, according to a new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Researchers examined the DNA of the sperm of 22 men who had suffered some sort of abuse as children. In those samples, the scientists found 12 areas of DNA that had undergone methylation, a process by which a structure called a methyl group is added to a strand of DNA and can influence gene function—a change not seen in the DNA of men who had not experienced child abuse. Studies in mice have found that DNA methylation in sperm cells can cause health problems that can be passed on to offspring.

“We already know there are a lot of behavioral mechanisms by which trauma has negative effects on the next generation,” said Andrea Roberts, research scientist at Harvard Chan School and lead author of the study, in an October 2, 2018 article in the Independent. “Trauma obviously really affects the behavior of people traumatized. It often makes them depressed, it gives them post-traumatic stress disorder, and those mental health conditions affect their parenting and affect the kids.”

The new findings suggest another possible pathway by which child abuse can affect offspring, she said.

Read the Independent article: Child abuse leaves molecular ‘scars’ in DNA of victims’ sperm, new study suggests