Children who are exposed to maltreatment are more prone to committing suicide in their later life.
Researchers from McGill University have found that most children who are exposed to maltreatment are at a higher risk of developing psychological disorder and are more likely to commit suicide in their later life.
Researchers discovered this while analysing brain tissue from people who had committed suicide.
During the study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, researchers examined the brain tissues of people who had committed suicide. Among them, some had a history of childhood maltreatment while others died due to some other cause. Scientists compared the tissues of people with past childhood maltreatment with the other group.
They were stunned to find particular variants of glucocorticoid receptors were less present - in the limbic system or emotion circuit of the brain - among those who were maltreated as children compared to the other group.
The study also found that the pattern of methylation of the gene coding in the glucocorticoid receptors was altered in suicide cases with a history of abuse.
Methylation is one way that genes are switched on or off for long periods of time. It appears that childhood adversity can produce long-lasting changes in the regulation of a key stress response system that may be associated with increased risk for suicide.
"In this study, we expanded our previous work on the epigenetic regulation of the glucocorticoid receptor gene by investigating the impact of severe early-life adversity on DNA methylation," said Dr Gustavo Turecki, researcher at the McGill University, in a statement.
"Preventing suicide is a critical challenge for psychiatry. This study provides important new information about brain changes that may increase the risk of suicide," said Dr John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.
"It is striking that early life maltreatment can produce these long-lasting changes in the control of specific genes in the brain. It is also troubling that the consequences of this process can be so dire. Thus, it is important that we continue to study these epigenetic processes that seem to underlie aspects of the lasting consequences of childhood adversity," he added.