July 20, 2013
Brain DNA Methylation Increases Approaching Adulthood

DNA methylation (attachment of methyl groups into the DNA backbone) is a means of gene regulation widely used in genomes of humans and other species. DNA methylation becomes more extensive in prefrontal cortex brain neurons as adolescent humans approach adulthood.

Researchers have discovered that people's frontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for the conduct and the acquisition of new information) experiences a significant change from birth to the end of adolescence. The epigenome is transformed.

The study analyzes the epigenome of newborns, teenagers aged 16, and adults aged 25 and 50 in the United States and in Catalonia (Spain).

Epigenome is the set of chemical signals responsible for turning on or off genes in our DNA. The discovery published in Science shows that one of these epigenetic signals, methylation of genetic material, is progressively increased until the end of adolescence and entry into adulthood.

This reminds me of the potential to rejuvenate minds and decisions we will face when offered the ability to pour youthful neural stem cells into our brains. Stem cell researchers will some day develop the ability to create youthful neural stem cells and deliver them into our brains. But what methylation patterns to set in these stem cells? Suppose it is possible to make the stem cells more or less methylated. Set their genetic regulatory state to be more like, say, a 12 year old, a 15 year old, or an 18 year old or even a 25 year old? What level of development to choose?

A brain flooded with, say, neural stem cells typical of a 12 year old might start making neurons to configure that brain to be more like a 12 or 13 year old.The brain might become a mix of, say, 40 year old and 12 year old. Or 60 year old and 12 year old. Much hilarity might ensue.

But the ability to replay adolescent neuron growth in adults might enable a human brain to be retrained to be less anti-social A key juvenile brain development period provides mice with key social behavior capabilities. So use neural stem cells to make dangerous criminals less dangerous?

A study by Yale Department of Psychiatry researchers found that mice with blocked neuron growth during their juvenile period exhibited altered social behavior later in life, unable to interact with other adults or to care for baby mice. Experts interviewed said that the findings, published Oct. 5 in The Journal of Neuroscience, may have potential applications in understanding schizophrenia and autism as well as the social deficits of children who undergo chemotherapy.

I expect we will arrive at a future where it becomes possible to choose DNA methylation patterns for neural stem cells that will cause changes in personality and behavior in humans. Will governments exercise sovereign power to alter personalities? Yes, of course. Will populaces vote in to power governments that do this? I expect some will. Also, individuals will their own personalities altered and their intellectual abilities enhanced with stem cell therapies and gene therapies.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 July 20 11:28 AM 

Ingeborg Waugh said at February 11, 2015 7:16 AM:

So if we can slow down DNA Methylation then we can slow down aging too????

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