Page URL:

Epigenetic effects of stress being slowly uncovered

8 November 2010
Appeared in BioNews 583

New research suggests that the impact of stress may be passed on from one generation to the next, and that psychiatric illness may have some degree of 'epigenetic heritability'.

Dr Isabelle Mansuy and her team from the University of Zurich in Switzerland discovered that male mice made depressed by early stress and lack of maternal care, appeared to pass this behaviour and anxiety on to their offspring.

The researchers believe that the male mice passed down epigenetic marks on crucial brain genes and on sperm cells. Epigenetics is involved in the regulation of gene activity, controlling which genes are switched on or off, and is achieved via a process of DNA methylation. In theory, before and after fertilisation all epigenetic marks are meant to be removed in the new embryo.

Previous studies, however, have hinted that this is not always the case, and that environmental factors can lead to methylation, which is not cleared and therefore seen in later generations. The researchers claim that their study offers strong evidence of this phenomenon, with Dr Mansuy claiming that 'This provides proof that the changes in DNA methylation are heritable'.

Dr Jonathan Mill from the Institute of Psychiatry in London, however, is more cautious about the implications of the findings. He told the New Scientist that 'more research is needed'. But that: 'It can provide a bridge between what's hard-wired in our DNA and what's modifiable through the environment'.

However, epigenetic marks on genes are reversible, which means that psychiatric illness is not necessarily predetermined and that research into the epigenetics of such conditions may lead to better treatment options in the future.

The findings published in the journal Biological Psychiatry in September were presented at the American Society for Human Genetics annual meeting in Washington DC last week.

Does stress cross generations
Science Daily |  1 September 2010
Epigenetic transmission of the impact of early stress across generations
Biological Psychiatry |  1 September 2010
Genes marked by stress make grandchildren mentally ill
New Scientist |  3 November 2010
28 April 2014 - by Dr Victoria Burchell 
Stress in early life can alter the production of small sections of the genetic material RNA in the sperm of mice, affecting behaviour not only in the mice themselves but also in their offspring, research suggests...
30 August 2011 - by Ruth Pidsley 
Forget 'you are what you eat'. Rather 'you are what your mother ate'. That is the dramatic message of the BBC's latest episode of Horizon 'The Nine Months That Made You', broadcast on Monday 22 August. The documentary was an account of the Barker Theory that birth weight determines health in later life...
22 August 2011 - by Rosemary Paxman 
In this first episode of a new documentary series, medical correspondent Dr Mark Porter investigated how developmental events in the womb have an astonishing impact on long-term adult health...
4 July 2011 - by Ruth Pidsley 
Scientists have shown that the effects of stress can be passed from one generation to the next via chemical changes to the DNA which turn genes on or off without altering the code itself....
9 May 2011 - by Dr Kimberley Bryon-Dodd 
Women who attended a mind and body course shortly before undergoing IVF demonstrated increased pregnancy rates compared with those that did not, a US study has found. The findings suggest that stress relief may increase the likelihood of becoming pregnant from IVF....
12 March 2010 - by Sally Marlow 
Mental health is a huge global concern, with one in four people experiencing some form of mental health problem at some point in their lives. Psychiatric disorders are sometimes difficult to study, as they are diagnosed on the basis of observed behaviours...
15 February 2010 - by Charlie McDermott 
The International Human Epigenome Consortium (IHEC), launched in Paris last week, plans to map 1,000 reference epigenomes within a decade...
18 January 2010 - by Professor Marcus Pembrey 
Readers will have noticed a couple of news reports and Rosalind John's excellent commentary on this topic in the last few weeks, but I make no apology for returning to the subject so soon. I believe this area of research will spark interest from the media for years to come. This is not because I fear research will necessarily uncover some unsuspected risk to the health of people born after IVF (we can't know until we do the research) but because we are ...
9 November 2009 - by Professor Marilyn Monk 
All cells in the body have the same complement of 25000 genes, yet different cells in different specific tissues - such as nerve, muscle or gut - have different characteristics phenotype. It follows that different subpopulations of genes within cells of differing function must be active or silenced depending on requirements for function in a particular tissue. Obviously, there will be genes concerned with metabolism, growth, and cell division - the so-cal
25 October 2009 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
US scientists have identified a genetic trait that is strongly associated with autism. The genetic change does not involve a mutation within the DNA sequence of a gene but instead involves an alteration in the physical structure of the DNA which affects the way a gene is turned on and off. The researchers hope that the new findings will lead to novel ways to diagnose and treat autism....
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.