According to a study of mice, conducted by researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM) in Boston and published in Biological Psychiatry, a woman’s risk of developing out-of-the-norm social behavior and anxiety or stress may be partly due to the events which took place in her father’s life when he was younger.

The researchers state that when young men are exposed to unstable lifestyles, their sperm cells change, therefore increasing the risk of anxiety as they get older and increasing the risk of psychiatric disorders in their daughters throughout coming generations.

Lorena Saavedra-Rodriguez, Ph.D., from the Larry Feig laboratory at TUSM commented:

“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 throughout adulthood. These changes were especially prominent in female mice.”

For their study, the researchers analyzed the behavior of the offspring of the mice that had been under stressed situations. They found that females, much more than males, were demonstrating anxious and stressed behavior, as well as abnormal social communication.

Although male mice were far less likely to depict these behaviors, when it came time for them to reproduce with non-stressed females, their daughters inherited the anxiety as well – which gave another generation these behaviors.

Larry A Feig, Ph.D, lead author of the study said:

“We are presently searching for biochemical changes in the sperm of stressed fathers that could account for this newly appreciated form of inheritance. Hopefully, this work will stimulate efforts to determine whether similar phenomena occur in humans.”

Written by Christine Kearney