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Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a traumatic life event associated with an increased lifetime risk for psychopathology/morbidity. The long-term biological consequences of CSA-elicited stress on chromosomal stability in adults are unknown. The primary aim of this study was to determine if the rate of acquired chromosomal changes, measured using the cytokinesis-block micronucleus assay on stimulated peripheral blood lymphocytes, differs in adult female monozygotic twins discordant for CSA.
Monozygotic twin pairs discordant for CSA were identified from a larger population-based sample of female adult twins for whom the experience of CSA was assessed by self-report (51 individuals including a reference sample). Micronuclei (MN) contain chromatin from structurally normal or abnormal chromosomes that are excluded from the daughter nuclei during cell division and serve as a biomarker to assess acquired chromosomal instability.
Female twins exposed to CSA exhibited a 1.63-fold average increase in their frequency of MN compared to their nonexposed genetically identical cotwins (Paired t-test, t16 = 2.65, P = 0.017). No additional effects of familial factors were detected after controlling for the effect of CSA exposure. A significant interaction between CSA history and age was observed, suggesting that the biological effects of CSA on MN formation may be cumulative.
These data support a direct link between CSA exposure and MN formation measured in adults that is not attributable to genetic or environmental factors shared by siblings. Further research is warranted to understand the biological basis for the observed increase in acquired chromosomal findings in people exposed to CSA and to determine if acquired somatic chromosomal abnormalities/somatic clonal mosaicism might mediate the adult pathology associated with CSA.
© 2013 York et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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VCU Human and Molecular Genetics Publications