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Sperm from anxious dads produces stress-ready children

However a study also said that a reduced reactivity to stress can lead to diseases such as anxiety and depression.

Image: Stressed man via Shutterstock

ANXIETY FELT BY dads leaves a lasting impression on their sperm that gives sons and daughters a blunted reaction to stress, according to a new study.

The findings, published in a new study in the Journal of Neuroscience by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, point to a possible evolutionary benefit passed from fathers to children in order to prepare them for the stressful environment they may be born into.

While environmental challenges, like diet, drug abuse, and chronic stress, felt by mothers during pregnancy have been shown to affect offspring neurodevelopment and increase the risk for certain diseases, dad’s influence on his children are less well understood.

Now teams of researchers led by neuroscience professor Tracy L Bale have shown that stress on preadolescent and adult male mice induced an epigenetic mark, or change in gene expression, in their sperm that reprogrammed their offspring’s ‘hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal’ (HPA) axis, a region of the brain that governs responses to stress.

Surprisingly, both male and female offspring had abnormally low reactivity to stress.

Researchers have pointed out that a reduced physiological stress response may reflect some adaptive evolutionary benefit passed on to offspring to ensure survival in what is expected to be a more stressful environment.

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“Whether such diminished stress reactivity would be detrimental or beneficial to offspring likely depends on the environment into which they were born, as well as genetic background factors,” they state in the paper.

However, the report also said that this reduced reactivity to stress is a sign that the organism doesn’t have the ability to respond appropriately to a changing environment. And as a result, their stress response becomes irregular, which can lead to stress-related disorders. The research points to a never-before-seen link to stress related diseases such as anxiety and depression passed from father to child.

The researchers have concluded that the finding that mild stress experience across a lifespan can change in male germ cells provides an “important and novel mechanism contributing to neuropsychiatric disease risk”.

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