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Behavioral epigenetics

Posted on December 16, 2011 by James Kohl.

Behavioral Epigenetics” was held on October 29–30, 2010 at the University of Massachusetts Boston Campus Center, Boston, Massachusetts. This meeting featured speakers and panel discussions exploring the emerging field of behavioral epigenetics, from basic biochemical and cellular mechanisms to the epigenetic modulation of normative development, developmental disorders, and psychopathology. This [free] report provides an overview of the research presented by leading scientists and lively discussion about the future of investigation at the behavioral epigenetic level.

Excerpt: “Tronick recognized that at the present time our ability to specify the chain of causality of epigenetic changes in human behavior is limited because of our inability to access brain tissue.”

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The “chain of causality” of epigenetic changes has been established across all species via the basic principles of biology and levels of biological organization. It is the pathway that directly links sensory input from the environment to genetically predisposed behavior in mammals. This pathway (i.e., the chain of causality) is gene, cell, tissue, organ, organ system.  In mammals, the pathway leads to changes in brain tissue that have repeatedly been causally linked to behavior across species including non-human primates and humans. There is no reason human brain tissue must be accessed to specify the chain of causality in human behavior unless every animal model that links this pathway to an organism’s behavior is ignored.  Clearly, that type of ignorance is not what the FDA is advocating in their “Critical Path Initiative,” which focuses on the requirements for new drug development. And clearly, the ASAM wants the gene, cell, tissue, organ, organ system pathway to be more fully considered by psychologists before they implement treatments that are not grounded in biological science.

My comment on Cause and Effect in Biology Revisited on Fri, 12/16/2011 – 08:47 applies equally well to the article that details the “Behavioral Epigenetics” conference proceedings:

From the perspective of molecular biology it seems most likely that the causal link between food acquisition and further developmental effects on all organisms is the most basic of all considerations. Organisms that lack sufficient nutrition do not reproduce. Those that reproduce use chemical signals to communicate self / non-self differences. The chemical signals are derived from successful metabolism of food. This makes chemical signals from food and from conspecifics the most important of all signals involved in biologically based cause and effect. The reciprocity, which requires food acquisition prior to reproduction and species survival, is correctly derived from what is already known about the epigenetic effects of chemical signals from food sources and from conspecifics, and their direct effect on the levels of biological organization that link them to genes and behavior across species.

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James Kohl
Retired medical laboratory scientist

James Kohl




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