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Leaving a mark

Suicide victims’ brains bear chemical scars of child abuse

7:05pm, May 6, 2008

Child abuse can leave lasting scars on its victims, both physical and psychological. It may also leave chemical marks in the brains of its victims who will later kill themselves.

In the brains of suicide victims, early abuse marks genes that encode ribosomal RNA, key gears in the cellular machinery that makes proteins, researchers from McGillUniversity in Montreal, Canada, report. The marks are methyl groups, chemical units that tattoo the DNA in a region that controls whether ribosomal RNA is turned on or off. Methyl tattoos help turn the genes off in a part of the brain associated with depression.

Published online in the May 7 PLoS ONE, the study is the first to implicate faulty protein production with child abuse and suicide.

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