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Archive - Jun 13, 2017

DNA Methylation (Epigenetic) Changes Present at Birth Could Explain Later Behavior Problems

Epigenetic changes present at birth - in genes related to addiction and aggression - could be linked to conduct problems in children, according to a new study by researchers at King's College London and the University of Bristol. Conduct problems (CP) such as fighting, lying, and stealing are the most common reason for child treatment referral in the UK, costing an enormous amount of money each year. Children who develop conduct problems before the age of 10 (known as early-onset CP) are at a much higher risk for severe and chronic antisocial behavior across the lifespan, resulting in further social costs related to crime, welfare dependence, and health-care needs. Genetic factors are known to strongly influence conduct problems, explaining between 50-80 per cent of the differences between children who develop problems and those who do not. However, little is known about how genetic factors interact with environmental influences - especially during fetal development - to increase the risk for later conduct problems. Understanding changes in DNA methylation, an epigenetic process that regulates how genes are “switched on and off,” could aid the development of more effective approaches to preventing later conduct problems. The study, published online on June 12, 2017, in Development & Psychopathology, used data from Bristol's Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) to examine associations between DNA methylation at birth and conduct problems from the ages of 4 to 13. The researchers also measured the influence of environmental factors previously linked to early onset of conduct problems, including maternal diet, smoking, alcohol use, and exposure to stressful life events.

Scientists Make First Crystal Model of Molecular Interactions in Under-Diagnosed Autoimmune Disease (Myasthenia Gravis); 3D Model Shows Interactions Between Auto-Antibodies and Auto-Antigen

As a molecular biologist, Kaori Noridomi gets an up-close view of the targets of her investigations. But when she began studying the molecular structures of a rarely diagnosed autoimmune disorder, myasthenia gravis, she decided to step out of the lab for a better view. Dr. Noridomi said she thought she needed to know more than what she saw under a microscope and decided she should meet patients who have myasthenia gravis. She went so far as to attend a fundraising walk that supported research of the disease. "Patients are just waiting for breakthroughs in research and better treatment," said Noridomi, a researcher in Professor Lin Chen's Molecular and Computational Biology lab at the University of Southern California (USC) Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. "They may also, because the disease attacks their immune system, end up with other diseases. I met one patient who had myasthenia gravis and had also dealt with four different types of cancer." Motivated by the patients' stories, Noridomi and a team of scientists, including Professor Chen (photo), developed a 3-D, crystal structure of the disease's molecular interactions to fully view its molecular interactions with a neural receptor that is the regular target of the disease. It is the first, high-resolution visual display of the molecular interactions. The development of the crystal structure gives scientists a clear view of how exactly the disease behaves and interferes with brain-to-muscle signals. The ability to see these interactions will likely accelerate research of the disease and could possibly lead to new disease-targeting therapies, said Dr. Chen, the study's corresponding author and a USC Dornsife College Professor of Biological Sciences and Chemistry. "Because of this finding, we may also find a better quantitative way to identify patients," Dr. Chen said.