New research explores effect of acute stressful situations on DNA methylation, an epigenetic effect

Stress is a major contributor to many of the issues BIPR seeks to address, including depression and anxiety. It is also associated with abuse, trauma, and, in general, parenting. A recent study seeks to explain how acute stress may influence gene activity, thus heightening the risk for disease later in life.

Past research connected psychological trauma and stress with altered DNA methylation (an “epigenetic effect” that determines whether or not a gene will produce proteins in a certain environment), but this new study, funded by the the German Research and the Swiss National Science Foundations, examined the effects of acute stressful situations. To evaluate DNA methylation on two different genes, the oxytocin receptor gene and the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor gene, researchers took blood samples from subjects at several different time intervals surrounding a stressful situation. Acute stress did not affect the Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor gene, which forms and connects brain cells. However, acute stress did increase methylation of the oxytocin receptor gene early in the situation, which would reduce the development of oxytocin. Long after the situation, methylation decreased past its original level was observed. Researchers explained this indicated an over-stimulation of the receptor production. Altered DNA methylation due to stress has the potential to increase risk of disease later in life, as epigenetic effects have been shown to be involved in the development of chronic diseases.

An article about this study can be found at the following link:

Acute stress alters control of gene activity: researchers examine DNA methylation


  1. Doug says

    Great article. I recently read a similar study describing the effects of exercise on DNA methylation in muscle cells. We are now beginning to understand the role stress and exercise have at the sub-cellular level. This would provide several directions for future study particularly in prevention of disease.

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