Biopsychology is a rapidly expanding field of study since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003. There is little data measuring the effect of psychotherapeutic interventions on gene expression, due to the technical, logistical, and financial requirements of analysis. Being able to measure easily the effects of therapeutic experiences can validate the benefits of intervention. In order to test the feasibility of gene expression testing in a private practice setting, this study compared messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) and gene expression before and after psychotherapy and a control condition. With four non-clinical adult participants, it piloted a novel methodology using saliva stored at room temperature. A preliminary test of the interleukin-8 (IL8) gene in both blood and saliva was performed in order to determine equivalency in the two biofluids; convergent validity was found. Following saliva test validation, a broad, genome-wide analysis was performed to detect differential gene expression in samples collected before and after treatment with Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), an
evidence-based practice combining acupressure and cognitive exposure. The control treatment was non-therapeutic social interaction. To establish a baseline, participants received the control first, followed a week later by EFT. Analysis of samples was performed at three time points: immediately before treatment, immediately after, and 24 hours later. Differential expression between EFT and control was found in numerous genes implicated in overall health (p < 0.05). Further, the differentially expressed genes in this study were shown to be linked to immunity, pro or anti-inflammatory, as well as neuronal processes in the brain. Ten of the 72 differentially expressed genes are identified as promising targets for downstream research. The data show promise for the future use of salivary samples to determine the effects of therapy; this pilot protocol also illustrated the challenges and limitations of novel technologies employed in biopsychology.
Keywords: epigenetics, DNA, mRNA, gene expression, protein synthesis, brain plasticity, neurogenesis, biopsychology