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Stress. 2011 Jul;14(4):348-56. doi: 10.3109/10253890.2011.586447.

Sex differences in prenatal epigenetic programming of stress pathways.

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Department of Animal Biology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Maternal stress experience is associated with neurodevelopmental disorders including schizophrenia and autism. Recent studies have examined mechanisms by which changes in the maternal milieu may be transmitted to the developing embryo and potentially translated into programming of the epigenome. Animal models of prenatal stress have identified important sex- and temporal-specific effects on offspring stress responsivity. As dysregulation of stress pathways is a common feature in most neuropsychiatric diseases, molecular and epigenetic analyses at the maternal-embryo interface, especially in the placenta, may provide unique insight into identifying much-needed predictive biomarkers. In addition, as most neurodevelopmental disorders present with a sex bias, examination of sex differences in the inheritance of phenotypic outcomes may pinpoint gene targets and specific windows of vulnerability in neurodevelopment, which have been disrupted. This review discusses the association and possible contributing mechanisms of prenatal stress in programming offspring stress pathway dysregulation and the importance of sex.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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