Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine
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Year : 2008  |  Volume : 30  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 5 Table of Contents   

Epigenetics and Psychiatry

Asha Hospital, 298, Road No.14, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad – 500034, India

Correspondence Address:
M S Reddy
Asha Hospital, 298, Road No.14, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad – 500034
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0253-7176.43127

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How to cite this article:
Reddy M S. Epigenetics and Psychiatry. Indian J Psychol Med 2008;30:5

How to cite this URL:
Reddy M S. Epigenetics and Psychiatry. Indian J Psychol Med [serial online] 2008 [cited 2020 Feb 24];30:5. Available from:

The term epigenetics was coined in 1940s but the first big breakthrough actually occurred only in 2003. In the last five years research has shown that certain compounds can attach themselves to specific genes and suppress their expression. They act like genetic switch, essentially turning off the genes they attach to. And here is where it gets really interesting­environmental factors can flick the switch on & off. This sub discipline called epigenetics is concerned with the study of how offspring can inherit and express seemingly new traits from their parents WITHOUT changes in the underlying DNA. This process of genetic switch is called DNA methylation.

The current focus in human epigenetics is on fetal development. A British study found that men who started to smoke before puberty had sons who were significantly fatter than normal. This correlation was found only in sons. This lends a whole new meaning to sons paying for the sins of their fathers'. In other words traits acquired by a parent or a grand parent can ultimately be inherited by his descendants.

Epigenetics is Lamarckian

In 2004 Michael Meaney, professor at McGill University of Canada, published a report in which he argues that something as simple as parental grooming was changing the expression of living animal's genetic code. Environmental factors especially parent child interaction and home atmosphere influence physical and cognitive development not only psychologically but also with significant epigenetic changes. Prof. Meaney's paper was a sort of epigenetic blockbuster. This is not Nature versus Nurture but Nature and Nurture.

Identical twins share exact genetic structure. One of the various reasons why there is no 100% concordance for Schizophrenia/Bipolar Disorder even in MZ twins may be methylation process­ Epigenetics.

DNA is not destiny-it is history. Your genetic code doesn't determine your life. Sure, it shapes it - but exactly how it shapes it will be dramatically different depending on your parents, your environment, and your choices. Your genes are the evolutionary legacy of every organism that came before you, beginning with your parents and winding up all the way to the very beginning. Somewhere in your genetic code is the tale of every plague, every predator, every parasite, and every planetary upheaval your ancestors managed to survive. And every mutation, every change, that helped them better adapt to their circumstances is written there. Is epigenetics laying a kind of Genetic foundation to the Jungian concept of Collective Unconsciousness?

Epigenetics read alongside Neuroplasticity opens up exciting areas of the influence of environmental factors on development of human brain, the neurochemistry responses and finally the expression of the disease of mental illness. It is about half a century since we moved from tertiary prevention to secondary prevention. Does Epigenetics with Neuroplasticity gives us a hope to dream of Primary Prevention in Psychiatry?[6]

   References Top

1.Mendel's laws if inheritance challenged - New Scientist may 27 2006- Rowan Hooper  Back to cited text no. 1    
2.Epigenetics: genome, meet your environment: As the evidence accumulates for epigenetics researchers reacquire a taste for Lamarckism - the Scientist, July 5 -2004  Back to cited text no. 2    
3.Men inherit hidden cost of Dad's Vices - New Scientist - jan6 -2006 -Rowan Hooper  Back to cited text no. 3    
4.Nurture takes the spot light - Science News - June 24-2006- Christen Brownlee  Back to cited text no. 4    
5.Survival of the Sickest: By Sharon Moalem  Back to cited text no. 5    
6.Web sites:   Back to cited text no. 6    


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