Research suggests traumatic childhood experiences embed themselves in our brains and put us at risk of mental illness, but epigenetic editing may offer us hope of removing them
The way depression manifested itself in mice in the laboratory of the psychiatrist and neuroscientist Eric Nestler was hauntingly relatable. When put in an enclosure with an unknown mouse, they sat in the corner and showed little interest. When presented with the treat of a sugary drink, they hardly seemed to notice. And when put into water, they did not swim – they just lay there, drifting about.
These mice had been exposed to “social defeat stress”, meaning that older, bigger mice had repeatedly asserted their dominance over them. It is a protocol designed to induce depression in mice, but in Nestler’s lab, it affected some more than others: those with a history of early trauma.