Individual symptoms, such as anxiety, avoidance and a heightened response to stress, can be transmitted from mother to child and even grandchildren by multiple nongenetic mechanisms, a new study by investigators at Weill Cornell Medicine and other institutions shows. The pre-clinical findings, published May 13 in Nature Communications, may lead to tools to predict if a child is at risk of developing behavioral problems later in life after exposure to stress signals in the womb.
“Genetic and nongenetic inheritance are different but complementary mechanisms to pass information from one generation to the next,” said senior author Dr. Miklos Toth, a professor of pharmacology at Weill Cornell Medicine. “It will be necessary to develop tools to determine if the familial occurrence of a disease is based on a nongenetic, as opposed to genetic, mechanism. On a positive note, nongenetic, in contrast to genetic, inheritance of disease is not inevitable and, if recognized in time, may be prevented.”
Studies in humans have previously suggested mothers can pass down behavioral traits to their children and grandchildren in a nongenetic manner. Grandchildren may be affected because fetuses produce early precursors to sperm and oocytes as they develop in the womb. A well-documented example of this transmission is the increased vulnerability of adult children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors to psychological stress.
Because it would be unethical to perform controlled experiments on interactions between women and their developing or newborn children, the mechanisms by which these behavioral symptoms are passed on have been difficult to determine. So Toth and colleagues turned to mice, where they could separate the genetic effects of maternal influence on new generations from those that occur in the womb and after birth. Their strategy was to transfer offspring at various stages of development; for example, when the embryo was 1 day old or immediately after birth, to a surrogate mother… Read More>>
Source: Medical Xpress