Sperm can pass trauma symptoms through generations, study finds
April 13, 2014
Researchers have put ample effort into identifying genes that help explain why cancer or heart disease run in some families. But scientists still don’t know if some genes can explain why the children and grandchildren of people who’ve survived traumatic events are more likely to experience mental illnesses than the general population. If there is a gene, or set of genes, that make the children of survivors more likely to develop depression and schizophrenia, scientists have yet to find it. Now, new research suggests that many scientists might have been looking in the wrong place.
A group of European researchers have discovered that early life traumatic events can alter a non-genetic mechanism governing gene expression in the sperm cells of adult mice. And they think that this finding, published today in Nature Neuroscience, explains why the offspring of these mice exhibit the same depressive-like behaviors that their parents do.
Early childhood trauma
The idea that altered gene expression can be passed down is controversial
People who experience early childhood trauma, like abuse or war, often exhibit a number of hormonal imbalances. The mechanisms involved are poorly understood, but most scientists agree that traumatic events alter gene expression, which then causes misregulations in a number of biological processes. But whether these changes can actually be passed down to offspring is a controversial question, because it would imply that