8 November 2009 For some time, researchers at McGill Univeristy have been doing interesting research on stress in mice. Michael Meaney, Moische Szyf, and others at McGill have shown that stressed mother mice treat their babies differently and this stresses the babies, but the surprising thing is that the babies grow up to respond excessively to stress, as a result this second generation of mothers also become stressed mothers, whose behavior then stresses their babies and thus stress is transmitted from generation to generation.
Effectively, stress produces chemicals in the body that alters the DNA resulting in more or less permanent changes. Specifically, these changes are brought about chemically, and a gene that appears to be critical to this process is the MECP2 gene. Stress appears to produce these changes through reducing the activity of the MECP2 gene.
Does this have any direct application to Rett syndrome or MECP2 syndrome? this isn’t very clear. It might be easier to speculate that stress could make the effects of Rett syndrome worse, because stress appears to lower the activity of MECP2, which is already too low in Rett syndrome…. but of course this is only speculation at this stage. It would be even harder to specualte on how this might interact with MECP2 Duplication syndrome where MECP2 activity is too high. Nevertheless, this line of research may help provide some of the answers to questions about the role of the MECP2 Gene in typical individuals as well as in those with Rett or MECP2 Duplication syndrome.