You possibly know of a teenager with a great, nurturing family, great DNA, but the teenager herself could not be farther from the family values or DNA. What gives?
My recent blog on epigenetics has dogged me with the question, 'are some teenagers rewiring themselves?'
Until relatively recently, it was believed there were two dominant factors in human behavior: environment (think B.F. Skinner) and DNA.
As we live, our DNA produces RNA, which subsequently generates the proteins that actually determine our composition and activity. But our DNA is not two-dimensional like a magnetic tape that our cells read. Instead, DNA has a complex three-dimensional structure and the spiral brings its molecular surfaces near itself and other proteins such as histones.
Scientists have discovered that it is possible to either introduce a 'kink' in the three-dimensional structure or promote a histone next to a DNA base pair that changes how the cell expresses proteins. Most interestingly, when the cell replicates its DNA, this 'kink' or additional histone is also copied. The DNA's magnetic tape has not been altered, but because the tape has been folded or has something sticking to it, the cell's instructions are different.
This study is called epigenetics, which is the study of changes in gene expressions by mechanisms other than changing the DNA sequence itself.
Epigenetics and the human brain tells that researchers have discovered that epigenetic changes can result in mental illness and drug addiction. Some epigenetic changes include: a) disturbing correlation to suicide, b) child abuse leaves an epigenetic mark on the brain, c) mental disability, d) schizophrenia, d) recreational (and otherwise) drugs trigger epigenetic changes in the brain, affecting hundreds of genes. If you want to read a more clinical paper, see - Epigenetic mechanisms in drug addiction.
There can be good epigenetic changes - 20-minute workout can alter your DNA for the better, study says explains that simple exercise can either reverse harmful epigenetic changes or provide improved instructions for your body's gene expression machinery.
Mmm. It appears that addiction is a more complex mechanism than we originally suspected. Those that are not close to it, tend to believe it is a matter of 'will'. But perhaps these recreational drugs are really trojan horses - once consumed, they begin changing the body so that 'will' is no longer in the driver's seat. Maybe that's how some really good families become dysfunctional families.