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Seminars, conferences and online resources on psychotherapy and human relationships
Epigenetics Demystified
A conference with by Dr Nessa Carey and Professor Marcus Pembrey

Saturday 22 November 2014

09.30   Registration and Coffee
10.00   Dr Nessa Carey

What is Epigenetics?
Epigenetics refers to any phenomenon which cannot be explained just by referring to the DNA sequence of an organism. Whenever two things have identical DNA, but are different to each other, that is an example of epigenetics in action. This can be seen around us all the time. Think of the limbless maggot and the mature fly it turns into, or identical twins where one develops schizophrenia and the other is completely healthy. In this presentation we will cover examples of epigenetics in action. But we will go further and look at how epigenetic phenomena are controlled. This is carried out by a series of potentially reversible modifications to DNA. They don't alter what a gene codes for, but they change the expression levels of a gene. These epigenetic modifications can control gene expression for decades, and they provide the crucial mechanistic bridge between nature and nurture.
11.15   Coffee Break
11.45   Professor Marcus Pembrey

Transgenerational responses to early life experience
The enduring nature of some epigenetic modifications raises the question of whether these can be transmitted to offspring. Can you inherit biologically the consequences of the experiences of your parents or ancestors? In this session I will present compelling evidence from mouse experiments that such transgenerational responses (TGRs) do exist, including the transmission of fear conditioning down the male line, and what the molecular (epigenetic) mechanisms might be. The few human observational studies to date suggest (male-line) transgenerational effects exist that cannot easily be attributed to cultural and/or genetic inheritance. These studies will be summarised, drawing attention to exposure-sensitive periods in early life and sex differences in transmission and offspring outcomes. Famines, especially in wartime, can have both a nutritional and emotional impact. Preliminary data will be discussed on the mental health of men whose paternal grandfathers as boys experienced the German famine of 1916-18. I will conclude by drawing out the emerging characteristics of human TGRs.
13.00   Lunch (please note that lunch is not included at this venue)
14.15   Dr Nessa Carey

Epigenetics and Life-Long Events
Epigenetic modifications to genes can be transient, altering gene expression for a short period of time. But some changes are very stable and may last for the entire lifetime of an individual. In this session we will examine some of the evidence that addresses how epigenetics can create and maintain long-term patterns of gene expression, and the potential effects this has. Topics will include the adult consequences of early abuse or neglect, the changes in gene expression that are induced by drugs of addiction and the delayed clinical responses to antidepressants. The potentially reversible nature of epigenetic modifications to genes means that there is the scope for altering these responses, but will this increased mechanistic understanding change practice?
15.45   Tea
16.00   Professor Marcus Pembrey

The implications of enduring epigenetic modifications and transgenerational responses
It is highly likely that epigenetics - hand in hand with genetic differences - will be shown to mediate much of the variation in people's life trajectory. Furthermore it is likely that variation, or sudden changes, in the parental/ancestral environment will be shown to influence health and development for better or worse in the next generation(s). Public health research and practice will need to be reframed to include transgenerational effects - an approach that I understand has already been adopted in some branches of psychotherapeutic practice. And a lot more understanding of critical, exposure-sensitive periods during fetal life and childhood will be needed before interventions to prevent adverse developmental outcomes can be contemplated. In the meantime 'epigenetics' risks becoming the new palmistry! One of the main reasons why the future will be full of surprises is that evolved adaptive responses may be at odds with what we regard as beneficial in present day society.
17.00   End

Full-time students: £75
Self-funded: £150
Organisationally-funded: £290
CPD Hours

Certificates of Attendance for 7 hours will be provided at the event

Grange Fitzrovia Conference Suite
Bolsover Street

Registration: 09.30
Start: 10.00
End: 17.00