- Research explores how our senses connect with the stress system
- The study explains what epigenetic alterations are established in the sensory networks by stress factors
- Early stressful life can affect later mental health
Life needs encouragement or a push to do something actively. But overstimulation can cause exhaustion leading to fatigue and illness. Early stressful life can affect later mental health.
Growing evidence concentrates on the important role of epigenetic mechanisms in the mediation of these long-term effects. Finding a clear link between early life experiences and later differences in mental health becomes a difficult task among the scientists.
‘Both the stress system and the sensory system contribute to epigenetic changes. Stress in early life alters epigenetic regulation of stress-related genes and affects mental health in later life.’
The epigenetic programming effects observed are not the outcome of an overstimulated stress system alone, suggested Vanessa Lux, a research fellow at the Department of Genetic Psychology, Ruhr Universität Bochum (RUB).
"Most researchers looked at the stress system. Our dual-activation hypothesis proposes that in addition to the stress system, the sensory systems also contribute to epigenetic changes. According to our model, glucocorticoids prime the epigenetic machinery for change while neural activation coordinates the programming mechanisms," said Dr.Lux.
The neural activation is not only present in stress-related networks. Dr.Lux explains that when a stressor is noticed, the sensory networks are also stimulated and may also be associated with epigenetic modifications.
Details of the Study
Dr. Lux showed a thematic review of the current evidence for a dual-activation of stress-related and sensory networks. This is necessary for the epigenetic programming effects of early life stress. The review was recently published in Current Genomics
. According to the review, stress in early life
alters epigenetic regulation of stress-related genes through two pathways; one being neural activity and the other being glucocorticoid exposure. The review also explains the impacts of stress on how the sensory systems develop.
According to Dr. Lux, it is not surprising to know that stress is perceived through the senses. The challenging question is what epigenetic alterations are established in the sensory networks by stress factors and how these influence mental health in later life.
Currently, scientists are not so interested in studying the epigenetic modifications in the sensory networks, though the period early in life is also a sensitive period of sensory development.
Dr. Lux wants to change this: "We just started a series of experiments at the RUB to investigate the related epigenetic mechanisms. With our dual-activation hypothesis, we assume that the interplay between epigenetic programming effects in stress-related and in sensory networks contributes to the diverse symptomatology we see in mental health patients who experienced early life stress. The effects on the sensory networks should, therefore, be included in bottom-up characterizations of clinical diagnoses."
Further research suggestions include finding new treatments for stress-induced sensory dysfunctions such as tinnitus, hearing loss, visual impairment, or loss of sight. People with severe mental illness often undergo sensory dysfunctions. A link between the sensory systems and the stress system can help healthcare practitioners to diagnose where the stress begins and to find out therapeutic measures in treating the health problems.