Some children are more sensitive to their environments, for better and for worse. Now Duke University researchers have identified a gene variant that may serve as a marker for these children, who are among society’s most vulnerable.
“The findings are a step toward understanding the biology of what makes a child particularly sensitive to positive and negative environments,” said Dustin Albert, a research scientist at the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy. “This gives us an important clue about some of the children who need help the most.”
Drawing on two decades worth of data on high-risk first-graders from four locations across the country, the study found that children from high-risk backgrounds who also carried a certain common gene variant were extremely likely to develop serious problems as adults. Left untreated, 75 percent with the gene variant developed psychological problems by age 25, including alcohol abuse, substance abuse and antisocial personality disorder.