People who live through traumatic experiences in childhood often suffer long-lasting consequences that affect their mental and physical health. Their children and grandchildren can be affected as well.
In this particular form of inheritance, sperm and egg cells pass on information to offspring not through their DNA sequence like classical genetic heredity, but rather via biological factors involving the epigenome that regulates genome activity.
The big question is how the signals triggered by traumatic events become embedded in germ cells.
“Our hypothesis was that circulating factors in blood play a role,” says Isabelle Mansuy, professor of neuroepigenetics at the University of Zurich’s Brain Research Institute and the ETH Zurich’s Institute for Neuroscience.
Mansuy and colleagues demonstrated that childhood trauma does have a lifelong influence on blood composition and that these changes are also passed to the next generation.
“These findings are extremely important for medicine, as this is the first time that a connection between early trauma and metabolic disorders in descendants is characterized,” Mansuy says.
Improving the understanding of the underlying biological processes could help medical practitioners prevent the late-onset consequences of adverse life experiences in patients in the future.