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Exp Neurol. 2012 Jan;233(1):95-101. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2011.01.009. Epub 2011 Jan 31.

Transgenerational inheritance of stress pathology.

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Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Medical Sciences Building, 1 King's College Circle, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 1A8, Canada.


It is becoming increasingly evident that maternal exposure to adversity during pregnancy leads to life-long effects in offspring. While there appears to be some commonality in the effects of maternal stress on endocrine and behavioral outcomes in the first generation offspring, it is clear that effects are highly dependent on species, sex and age, as well as on the time in pregnancy when stress is experienced. Recent studies have identified that the effects of maternal stress are not confined to the first generation and that they can extend over multiple generations. These effects are also evident in humans. While our understanding of the potential mechanisms by which transgenerational programming of the stress response occurs remain largely undetermined, recent studies have begun to identify potential mechanisms of transfer. These include modified maternal adaptations to pregnancy, altered maternal behavior and transgenerational epigenetic programming. Such transgenerational programming of stress responses and pathologies has important societal consequences as it could provide a biological explanation for the generational persistence of human behaviors in populations exposed to adversity.

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