Recent research has already shown that the mother’s anxiety during pregnancy increases the baby’s stress level. However, a newer study suggests also that stress experienced by the father in his childhood is also passed on to his child, leading to the development of white matter clusters in the brain. The study was led by Finnish researchers at the University of Turku and published Nov. 24 in JAMA Network Open, it raises the question of epigenetic inheritance.
More studies need to be done on the influence of fathers on their children
Several recent studies have shown that changes in gene function caused by the environment can be inherited from one generation to the next. In particular, there is evidence that diet and stress can cause these types of changes. These changes do not alter the nucleotide sequence of DNA, but rather the function of genes through epigenetic mechanisms. Recent discoveries about the role of epigenetics in regulating gene function have led to new thinking about the mechanisms of heredity. These transmissions have generally been studied from mother to child, but very few studies were done on the transmission from father to the child. As a result, more studies need to be done on the subject.
In this study, scientists found that the development of the baby’s brain is affected by the trauma experienced by the father in childhood. To reach these conclusions, they observed 72 families and asked the parents to fill out a questionnaire, the Trauma and Distress Scale, which indicates the degree of trauma in five areas: emotional neglect, emotional abuse, physical neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. The babies, aged 2 to 5 weeks, then underwent an MRI scan followed by a fractional brain white matter anisotropy scan to measure fiber density.
The results showed that the father’s exposure to stress was related to the more rapid development of white matter clusters in the child’s brain. These clusters made up of axons that connect different parts of the brain. The axons of neurons play a central role in brain function. This link between the father’s stress levels and the child’s white matter development persisted even when the mother’s stress during infancy and other possible factors during pregnancy were taken into account.
“To determine whether these types of links are indeed passed on through epigenetic changes in sperm, we have started collecting sperm samples from fathers and will study these epigenetic markers with a research group,” summarizes Professor Hasse Karlsson, the lead researcher. The results of the current study will be made available as soon as they are analyzed.