Alterations in gene expressions could predict propensity to addiction, a recent study has shown.

Most people are not familiarized with the term ‘epigenetics’, but new biological and scientific reports suggest that it is a word that can become very well-known in coming years. Epigenetics refers to the study of heritable changes in visible physical characteristics and also overall health, disease history, and behavior — that are not linked to changes in the underlying DNA sequence.The processes that alter gene expressions are also known as the epigenetic process, and they have been shown to predict addiction.

A 2016 study conducted by U.K. researchers and published in the journal Translational Psychiatry showed that variations in epigenetics found at birth were associated with higher levels of substance use during teenage years and an earlier onset of substance use.

The findings provide some insights into the relationship between epigenetics and addiction and “highlight birth as a potentially sensitive window of biological vulnerability,” researchers wrote.

One specific epigenetic process, DNA methylation (DNAm) has been linked to several psychiatric disorders, including addiction. These changes in genetic expression can occur both pre and postnatally due to environmental influences including tobacco exposure, researchers wrote.

Researchers believed their study was the first genome-wide study to examine DNAm in early life, and substance use in adolescence. They used data from a subsample of 339 youth who have shown repeated measures of DNAm, shown trajectories of conduct problems between the ages of 4 and 13, had substance-use ratings and epigenetic data at birth and at age 7.

They found that epigenetic variation at birth was associated with a higher rate of substance use 14 to 18 years later and noted that the neonatal period may be key to measuring the risk for future substance abuse. For example, epigenetic patterns at birth may trigger developmental consequences such as drug-seeking behavior and addiction.

The researchers also looked at environmental factors and found… (continue reading)