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Social Stress in Male Mice Impacts Female Offspring Across Generations

Aug 23, 2012 07:21 AM EDT
African spiny mouse
African spiny mouse can re-grow its skin.

A new study on mice suggests that unstable social life of male mice during adulthood may impact the social behavior of offspring across several generations.

Researchers from the Tufts University School of Medicine studied the effect of stress on mice that faced an unstable social life in their young age. They found the mice that did not enjoy a stable social interaction with other members of the group due to changes in their cage composition were exposed to social stress and psychiatric disorders.

Experts also noticed that the changes in the social behavior were more prominent among the female mice. They faced more stress and it in turn impacted the female offspring of the stressed females.

They suggested that the mice that had an unstable social life during their adulthood underwent gene changes in their sperm cells that were possibly getting inherited by other generations. These previously-stressed mice have a great impact on their offspring, especially on their daughters for multiple generations.

While the stressed male mice did not show any anxiety behavior, they are believed to be passing it on to the female offspring after having mated with non-stressed females. The behavior of male mice is inherited by not just the current generation daughters but also by the next generation of female offspring.

"The long-term effects of stress can be pernicious. We first found that adolescent mice exposed to chronic social instability, where the cage composition of mice is constantly changing, exhibited anxious behavior and poor social interactions through adulthood. These changes were especially prominent in female mice," first author Lorena Saavedra-Rodríguez, from the Tufts University School of Medicine, said in a statement.

The findings of the study published online in the journal Biological Psychiatry concludes that the anxiety behavior among women may have been inherited from the experiences of their stressed fathers during their adulthood. 

Researchers are planning to further study on the changes in the sperms of stressed fathers due to chemical reactions that later get inherited by offspring.  They hope the study will help in determining similar trends in humans.

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