Princeton University
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Gene-Environment Interactions and Children’s Health

Tue, Apr 29, 2008
Location - TBA

Speaker

Dan NottermanDR. DAN NOTTERMAN
Professor of Molecular Biology

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On April 29, 2008, Dr. Dan Notterman immediately captured the attention of the audience by asking them to consider the effect that genes and the environment have on human health. Dr. Notterman asked the students to consider what happens to corn plants when grown in nutrient deficient soil. Is the environment more important or their genes? He then went on to explain that certain alleles produce a phenotype only under specific environmental conditions. If someone is allergic to roses, there are no symptoms unless they are exposed to roses.

As background to his research, Dr. Notterman shared a study of the gene that codes for the serotonin transporter. The action of the serotonin pump is inhibited by the drug Prozac. Prozac increases the level of serotonin and treats depression. There is polymorphism in the gene for the serotonin pump, a long form and a short form differing by 44 bases, which can be detected by PCR. Mothers and children were tested and also screened for stressful events in the past year. The results were dramatic. Those that are homozygous for the short form are more likely to be depressed and/or abuse alcohol or drugs when stressed. The heterozygous group falls in the middle and those that are homozygous for the long form are most resilient to the effects of stress. Dr. Notterman is now following 4,000 single mothers and 4,000 of their children to screen for depression and anxiety, substance abuse and the gene for the serotonin pump as well as others such as the oxytocin receptor. Using a gene chip, which he handed out to the students to see, he hopes to eventually be able to identify children at risk by studying 1.8 million polymorphisms.

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