Effects of prenatal stress passed across generations in mice

Sons of male mice exposed to prenatal stress are more sensitive to stress as adults, according to a study in the August 17 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. These findings suggest experiences in the womb can lead to individual differences in stress response that may be passed across generations.

Tracy Bale, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues previously found that male mice were sensitive to stress their mothers experienced during pregnancy. In the current study Bale, together with Chris Morgan, also of the University of Pennsylvania, bred those stress-sensitive males with normal to see if the heightened stress response could be transmitted to the of mice. Even though the male offspring had no additional exposure to stress in the womb, they displayed a more pronounced reaction to stress, just like their fathers.

"This study shows that the effects of maternal stress in mice are passed by the sons to the grandsons of the stressed mothers," said Arthur Arnold, PhD, an expert on sex differences in the brain at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Since male mice are not involved in rearing the offspring in the lab setting, the findings suggest that the transmission of the trait from son to grandson is through the son's DNA," added Arnold, who was unaffiliated with the study.

In general, tend to respond more to stress than do males. However, in the current study, the sons and grandsons of female mice that were stressed while pregnant showed a more similar to female mice.

Compared with other male mice, the stress-sensitive grandsons also had smaller testes, as did their fathers, suggesting they were exposed to less around birth — a critical period for establishing sex differences in the brain. Additionally, genes involved in brain development were turned on and off in a pattern more similar to female than male mice.

"Together these findings suggest prenatal stress may disrupt masculinization of the developing mouse brain," Bale said. Although such changes did not deter the stress-sensitive male mice from reproducing, the results suggest exposure to during early pregnancy can lead to long-term changes in offspring that can be passed across generations.

Related Stories

Importance of sex-specific testing shown in anxiety study

Oct 15, 2008

An Australian study has flagged an important truth for the medical research community. Like their human counterparts, male and female mice are not only different, their respective genetic responses can often be the reverse ...

Yo-yo dieting alters genes linked with stress

Nov 30, 2010

Stressed-out mice with a history of dieting ate more high-fat foods than similarly stressed mice not previously on diets, according to a new study in the Dec. 1 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. The findings suggest that m ...

Enzyme regulates brain pathology induced by cocaine, stress

Nov 08, 2007

Researchers have uncovered a key genetic switch that chronic cocaine or stress influences to cause the brain to descend into a pathological state. In studies with mice they showed how chronic cocaine changes gene activity ...

Sex of baby drives response to pregnancy stress

Apr 29, 2010

University of Adelaide research is showing that the sex of the baby determines the way it responds to stressors during pregnancy and its ability to survive pregnancy complications.

Recommended for you

Link seen between seizures and migraines in the brain

7 hours ago

Seizures and migraines have always been considered separate physiological events in the brain, but now a team of engineers and neuroscientists looking at the brain from a physics viewpoint discovered a link ...

Neuroscience: Why scratching makes you itch more

13 hours ago

Turns out your mom was right: Scratching an itch only makes it worse. New research from scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis indicates that scratching causes the brain to release ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.