September 6, 2011
Does Dad's stress affect his unborn children? According to the results of a new study, it seems the answer may be "yes, but it's complicated."
The risk of developing depression, which is significantly increased by exposure to chronic stress, is influenced by both environment and genetics. The interplay of these two factors is quite complex, but in fact, there is even a third factor that most of us know nothing about -- epigenetics. Epigenetics is the science of changes in genetic expression that are not caused by actual changes in DNA sequencing. It is these mechanisms that have been the recent focus of intergenerational investigations into the transmission of stress vulnerability.
Inheritance is complex. We've all known that mothers and fathers have tremendous influence on their children, but "this study highlights how complicated the relationship between genetic, epigenetic, and environmental contributions can be with regards to the inheritance of important behavioral traits," commented Dr. John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry.