FinnBrain research from the University of Turku has shown for the first time that the stress a father experienced as a child is linked to the development of white matter pathways in the child’s brain. Whether this connection is transmitted through epigenetic inheritance requires further research.
Evidence from several new animal studies shows that changes in gene function caused by the environment can be inherited from generation to generation through gametes. In particular, nutrition and stress have been shown to cause these types of changes. However, these do not alter the nucleic acid sequence of DNA; the environment seems to alter the function of genes by so-called epigenetic mechanisms.
New findings on the role of epigenetics in regulating gene function led to new considerations about the mechanisms of inheritance, as researchers believed that acquired characteristics cannot be inherited. These types of phenomena transmitted from one generation to the next, however, have not been studied much in humans.
In the FinnBrain research, researchers identified 72 families with information about both parents’ early experiences of stress and an MRI image of the child’s brain taken at the age of a few weeks.
The researchers found that the father’s exposure to stress was linked to faster development of white matter pathways in the child’s brain. White matter pathways are made up of “cables” connecting different parts of the brain and play a central role in the functioning of the brain. The relationship between the father’s exposure to stress and the development of the child’s white matter pathways remained even when the researchers considered the impact of early stress exposure on the mother and others. possible contributing factors during pregnancy.
According to Professor Hasse Karlsson, who is the principal investigator of FinnBrain, the significance of the discovery on the further development of the child is still unclear:
“The relevance of our study is that this type of connection in humans was discovered in the first place. To be able to determine whether these types of connections are actually transmitted by epigenetic changes in sperm, we started collecting the data from fathers, semen samples and studying these epigenetic markers with a research group led by Professor Noora Kotaja of the University of Turku. “
Launched in 2010, FinnBrain is a University of Turku birth cohort study involving more than 4,000 families and aimed at exploring the environmental and genetic factors influencing a child’s development. In addition to questionnaires and registers, the FinnBrain project also uses mapping of genes, behavioral traits and hormonal metabolism as well as brain imaging that produce new information on factors promoting well-being in childhood.
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