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A Life Course Approach to Mental Disorders$
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Karestan C. Koenen, Sasha Rudenstine, Ezra Susser, and Sandro Galea

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199657018

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199657018.001.0001

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Social–biological interplay over the life course

Social–biological interplay over the life course

(p.259) Chapter 24 Social–biological interplay over the life course
A Life Course Approach to Mental Disorders

Kelly Skelton

Kerry Ressler

Elisabeth Binder

Bekh Bradley-Davino

Oxford University Press

The biological approach to psychiatry attempts to explain the aetiology of psychiatric disorders in terms of the biological function of the nervous system. However, even twins who share identical DNA are frequently discordant for psychiatric diagnoses, indicating that genetics alone cannot fully account for the development of psychiatric disorders. Biology does not occur in isolation, but rather is shaped by the environment that individuals experience during their lifetime. In addition, biological factors impact perception of, and reaction to, their environment. Studies of gene by environment interactions, in which psychiatric outcomes are dependent upon both specific genotype and history of environmental exposure, attempt to elucidate this interconnection. However, they often fail to account for the crucial role of developmental timing of environmental exposure in determining its impact on the underlying neurobiology and subsequent psychiatric outcome. Epigenetics provides a chemical mechanism by which environmental exposure can alter DNA transcription and translation, leaving a potentially enduring mark on an individual’s biology. These epigenetic changes may occur only during critical developmental periods, be site specific, and be transmitted intergenerationally. They allow both for the potentially detrimental impact of negative environments on an individual’s risk for mental illness, and for the potentially beneficial impact of positive environmental interventions over the life course.

Keywords:   anxiety, depression, gender, genetics, neurobiology, psychiatry, stress

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