We all encounter stress in our daily lives, but new research is revealing that the way you respond to stress and adverse experiences may be inherited from your parents. Paternal exposure to stressors creates long-lasting changes in germ cells (sperm and eggs) that may be inherited by future generations and determine how they react to stress.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers exposed male mice to chronic stress, then measured how it affected the stress responses of their male and female offspring, produced both through natural mating and artificial insemination. They discovered that offspring displayed the same stress phenotype as their fathers. For example, a father deemed susceptible to stress had offspring that showed more anxiety- and depression-like behaviors when they were exposed to stressors in adulthood, whereas resilient fathers had resilient offspring.
Interestingly, the transmission of stress phenotype occurred in both the offspring resulting from natural mating and those from artificial insemination. This finding indicates that the stress-induced alterations in sperm directly contribute to stress phenotype transmission. The researchers also discovered that exposure to stress drastically affected sperm RNA sequences.
This study provides new insight into how stress responses can be inherited across generations and the role sperm RNA plays in transmitting stress susceptibility or resilience. So, the next time you respond well to a stressful life challenge, you may just want to thank your dad!