How trauma gets ‘under the skin’

A recent study from the University of Michigan suggests that traumatic childhood experiences may have lasting effects on muscle function in later life.

Led by Kate Duchowny from the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, the study analyzed skeletal muscle function in older adults alongside surveys detailing adverse childhood events. The findings, published in Science Advances, indicate that individuals who reported experiencing more childhood adversity had poorer muscle metabolism as they aged.

Using muscle tissue samples from participants in the Study of Muscle, Mobility, and Aging (SOMMA), which includes 879 adults over 70 years old, researchers assessed two key aspects of muscle function: adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production and oxidative phosphorylation. ATP, produced by mitochondria within cells, provides the energy needed for cellular activities.

The study also relied on questionnaire data to gauge participants’ childhood experiences, including exposure to substance abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse, and feelings of love and support within their families.

Results revealed that approximately 45% of participants reported experiencing one or more adverse childhood events. Both men and women who reported such events demonstrated lower ATP production compared to those with fewer or no adverse childhood experiences.

According to Duchowny, these findings suggest that early childhood experiences may impact skeletal muscle mitochondria, which is concerning given the role of mitochondrial function in various aging-related health outcomes.

Collaborator Anthony Molina, a professor at the University of California San Diego, provided expertise in muscle bioenergetics. The team used MRI images of participants’ muscles during exercise and rest, as well as muscle biopsies, to assess mitochondrial function.

Despite controlling for factors like age, gender, education, and lifestyle habits, the study found that the effects of childhood adversity on muscle function remained significant. Molina emphasized that previous research has linked mitochondrial function to physical and cognitive abilities in older adults, making these findings particularly relevant for understanding healthy aging outcomes.

This study represents a unique exploration into the long-term impact of childhood experiences on mitochondrial function and underscores the importance of early intervention and support for children facing adversity.

Source: Science Daily