Nurture Alters Nature through Epigenetic Modifications of DNA
It is well established that the social and physical environment early in life has long-term impact on our physical and mental health and behavior later in life. What are the mechanisms that mediate the effects of the early environment on our health? Are these effects are reversible later in life? The genetic information in DNA that we inherit from our ancestors is programmed by another layer of machinery; “the epigenome”. The “epigenome” is established during gestation but is highly attentive to cues from the internal and external environment early in life and thus serves as an interface between our static genome and the dynamic environment. We will discuss data from animal models and humans supporting the hypothesis that early life social-environment leaves its marks in our epigenome and affects stress, health, and mental health later in life creating a molecular link between nurture and nature. Although the epigenetic marks in our genome in response to experience are extremely stable, they are also potentially reversible by epigenetic therapy pointing to the prospect of epigenetic therapeutics in mental health.