Parents around the world can relax, knowing that their kids won’t inherit all of their stresses — at least at the DNA or epigenetic level. In an animal model, neuroscientists at Yerkes National Primate Research Center have shown they can reverse influences of parental stress by exposing parents to behavioral interventions following their own exposure to stress.
“These results in our mouse model are an important public health contribution because they provide optimism for applying similar interventional approaches in humans and breaking intergenerational cycles of stress,” says lead author Brian Dias. More information here.
The research was published in Biological Psychiatry, and is a continuation of Dias’ work with Kerry Ressler on this topic, which earned some attention in 2013. Note: the mice weren’t inheriting a fear as much as a sensitivity to a smell. Even so, it remains an intriguing example of how transgenerational (um, since the word “epigenetic” is so stretchy now) influences can be studied in a precise molecular way.
Since 2013, Dias stepped up to form his own lab, while Ressler moved north to McLean Hospital in Massachusetts. In discussions with Lab Land, Dias has remarked that advances in the area of transgenerational influence are very fast moving. Here are a few examples:
Obesity Alters Sperm Epigenome (The Scientist, 2015)
Father’s Environmental Exposure to Phthalates Affects Sperm Epigenetics (UMass Amherst, 2017)
Also see the blog Wiring the Brain from Kevin Mitchell for a skeptical view of this field.