A female’s risk of anxiety and dysfunctional social behavior may depend on the experiences of her father, according to new research.
A new mice study from researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine suggests that stress caused by chronic social instability during youth contributes to changes in sperm cells that can lead to psychiatric disorders in female offspring.
“The long-term effects of stress can be pernicious. We first found that adolescent mice exposed to chronic social instability, where the cage composition of mice is constantly changing, exhibited anxious behavior and poor social interactions through adulthood. These changes were especially prominent in female mice,” said first author Lorena Saavedra-Rodríguez, Ph.D. and a postdoctoral fellow.
The researchers studied the offspring of these stressed mice and observed that the female, but not male, offspring exhibited elevated anxiety and poor social interactions.
The researchers note that even though the stressed males did not express any of these altered behaviors, they passed them on to their female offspring after mating with non-stressed females.
“We are presently searching for biochemical changes in the sperm of stressed fathers that could account for this newly appreciated form of inheritance,” said senior author Larry A. Feig, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry.
“Hopefully, this work will stimulate efforts to determine whether similar phenomena occur in humans.”
The study was published online in Biological Psychiatry.
Source: Tufts University
Photo by Shutterstock.