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Biol Psychiatry. 2009 Dec 1;66(11):1061-6. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.05.026. Epub 2009 Jul 3.

Paternal transmission of complex phenotypes in inbred mice.

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Columbia University, New York, New York, USA.



Inbred mice are genetically identical but nonetheless demonstrate substantial variability in complex behaviors such as activity levels in a novel environment. This variability has been associated with levels of parental care experienced early in development. Although maternal effects have been reported in biparental and uniparental strains, there have been no investigations of paternal effects in non-biparental strains in which offspring are reared exclusively by mothers.


In the uniparental inbred Balb/cJ mouse strain, we examined the relationship of paternal open-field activity to the activity of both male and female offspring in the open-field. Potential mediators of paternal transmission of behavior were examined, including maternal care, growth parameters, litter characteristics, and time the father was present with the pregnant mother prenatally.


An association of paternal open-field activity with the open-field activity of female but not male offspring was found. Variation in maternal postnatal care was associated with female but not male offspring activity in the open-field but did not mediate paternal effects on offspring behavior. Paternal effects on offspring growth parameters were present, but these effects also did not mediate paternal effects on behavior.


Paternal transmission of complex traits in genetically identical mice reared only by mothers suggests a nongenetic mechanism of inheritance potentially mediated by epigenetic factors. The exclusion of multiple mediators of paternal effects on offspring suggests the possibility of germline paternal inheritance via sperm of complex phenotypes in inbred mice. Future studies are required to examine these interesting possibilities.

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