Stress during Pregnancy and the Expression of Genes

Universidad Nacional de San Martín - Instituto de Investigaciones Biotecnológicas

October 28, 2013 | 5 ′ 10 ′′


Stress during Pregnancy and the Expression of Genes


A research team led by PhD Marcela Brocco studies how the stress suffered by a mother during pregnancy can influence the son’s expression of genes, increasing the probability of having depression or drug abuse tendencies in the future. In an interview with Argentina Investiga the specialist gives details about the research.

The human genome sequencing opened a new research horizon known as epigenomics. This new field investigates how external or internal agents, without changing their DNA sequence, affect the genes’ expression. “We find that the stress in the mother’s womb marks the animals’ brains. This might explain why we see changes in the behavior of the nervous cells”, explains Doctor Marcela Brocco, professor and researchers of the Instituto de Investigaciones Biotecnológicas (IIB) and director of the team which carried out the research.

-When did the research start?
-The work started little before the move to the Campus Miguelete. We started in the INTI but we finished setting it here. The animals were donated by the School of Medicine of the UBA and the experiments on animals were made there. Through the experience we got with the people from UBA we could take the experiments to the new animal facility of the IIB. In fact, a researcher and a PhD student were incorporated now and are working with the animals at the moment.

It is very good to have the animal facility with the best salubrity conditions for the animals. When we were at the INTI we couldn’t because it was not a place thought for that. Here we can keep the animals in an adequate way and as we are working in topics related to stress, if the animal is in a bad condition, it is under stress we do not control adequately.

-What are the future applications of the research?
-My dream would be to find a group of genes and epigenetic alterations of these genes which permit to diagnose neuropsychiatric pathologies partly produced by the individual’s genetic charge and partly by the stress received by the individual. The classic disease caused by that conjunction is depression and vulnerability to substance abuse. The genetic and epigenetic changes together with the questionnaire carried out by the psychiatrist might permit to reach a correct diagnosis. Up to now there are no biochemical tests to diagnose these diseases. I can make a blood extraction and make a test to know if you have depression, as it can be done with diabetes or high cholesterol. To find these changes will help to find the involved genes and what might be the biochemical markers.

-Might it be useful to develop drugs as well?
-Eventually, drugs could be developed. The objective is to design any directed drug, knowing what each patient’s specific markers are. Having an Outlook of what the patient’s markers are, then you can chose a more adequate drug.

-And what is the research next step to go on with humans?
-These markers we found in the animals have to be found in humans. We are already investigating samples sent to us by Moyano Hospital.

-Is there any relation with a national laboratory?
-Not with a drug laboratory. In Argentina, in general, we do not develop drugs. It is still not clear what the genes responsible for the disease are. We need this step first: to know what the genes are and their alterations and the third step are the drugs.

-Thinking about the future, do you see any possibilities that a national laboratory can make a drug for this application?
-It would be great, but reality indicates the developments are always settled abroad. The reason is the volume of money they manage, which makes possible for people to have technology we do not have here. That is the big difference. Anyway, pharmaceutical companies devoted to neurosciences’ drugs are restricting their budgets due to the pathologies’ complexity. Last year, Glaxo closed the division of neuropsychiatric diseases in Europe. It is a difficult terrain, so first we intend to reach the diagnosis, and then we will see if there is a drug to help.

-How is the working team formed?
-It is a joint work. Doctor Carlos Alberto Frasch, dean of the IIB and chief of the laboratory and the BS in Biotechnology Melisa Monteleone, graduated from the UNSAM and PhD scholarship holder of the Conicet participate. We had the collaboration of Doctor Marta Antoneli, from the School of Medicine of the Universidad de Buenos Aires.

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Matías Alonso


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