Editors' ChoicePsychiatry

Money doesn’t bring happiness.... Or does it?

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Science Translational Medicine  24 Aug 2016:
Vol. 8, Issue 353, pp. 353ec137
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aah5495

Low socioeconomic status as assessed by income, education, and occupation is widely considered a risk factor for a broad range of health problems, including the development of neuropsychiatric disorders. Although this connection is well documented, research into the biological mechanisms that might underlie this association has been stymied by the complexity of the environmental factors associated with low socioeconomic status, such as toxic environmental exposure, social stress (isolation or defeat), poor lifestyle, and material deprivation. Research into the biological signature of psychopathological traits has identified alterations in the expression of several peripheral blood markers, including neurotrophic proteins (growth factors necessary for neuron development and survival) and proteins involved in inflammatory and oxidative processes. Now, Mansur et al. bridge the gap between these associations by showing that low socioeconomic status provides a link between peripheral blood markers and childhood psychopathology.

The authors obtained blood samples for marker assessment as well as behavioral data measured with the Child Behavior Checklist (a standardized measurement of maladaptive and emotional behavior) in 495 children ages 4 to 18 and measured the interaction of these parameters with socioeconomic status. They found that low socioeconomic status was positively associated with both psychopathological behavioral traits and altered biological marker expression. In addition, analysis of the interactions among these three factors showed that the correlation of psychopathological traits with marker expression was higher in children with low socioeconomic status for all behaviors analyzed, including anxiety, depression, conduct problems, aggressive behavior, and inattention. Interestingly, the effect of low socioeconomic status seemed to be very specific in some instances, such as in the association of neurotrophic markers with the depressive behavioral scale, which was significant in children with low socioeconomic status compared with children with normal socioeconomic status. Although a longitudinal evaluation of this cohort would be needed to ascertain the causative role of these factors in the development of neuropsychiatric disorders, this work highlights an important role for low socioeconomic status in modulating the biological and behavioral expression of pathological behavioral traits. Also, studying the different dimensions of low socioeconomic status separately would provide insight into their relative contributions to psychiatric disorders that may have important implications for behavioral-based interventions.

R. B. Mansur et al., Socioeconomic disadvantage moderates the association between peripheral biomarkers and childhood psychopathology. PLOS ONE 11, e0160455 (2016). [Full Text]

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