Men pass on the biochemical consequences of childhood trauma to their children and grandchildren

Child trauma adversely affects the physical and mental health of both the person and his offspring. Scientists at the Institute for Brain Research at the University of Zurich have identified molecular mechanisms involved in transferring the effects of traumatic experiences to children and grandchildren. The experts found that the changes that can be transmitted from generation to generation through the male line are not related to genes, but are caused by epigenetic mechanisms.

The first stage of the study was conducted with the participation of laboratory animals. Scientists examined mice that survived a traumatic event soon after birth. It turned out that the blood composition of such animals in adulthood differed significantly from that of mice that were not exposed to shocks in early life.

The most significant changes were in the lipid profile: child trauma resulted in a high concentration of a number of fatty acids in the blood. By acting on cell receptors, these acids change the activity of genes in cells, leading to impaired glucose metabolism. The inclusion of such an epigenetic (supigenetic) mechanism increases the risk of metabolic disorders, which can be manifested both in the propensity to be underweight and overweight.

Examination of the offspring of such animals showed that children and even grandchildren of mice who survived childhood trauma had similar changes in their blood. At the same time, it turned out that only males have the ability to transmit negative biochemical consequences of trauma. Scientists were surprised to learn that when injecting blood to mice that did not experience trauma at an early age, their bodies developed exactly the same metabolic disorders that were transmitted to offspring through male lines. Thus, it became clear that the "metabolic consequences of trauma" are associated with blood and affect the sperm, providing a specific character of fat metabolism in the body of offspring.

In the second phase of the experiment, scientists examined 25 children from a shelter in Pakistan: each of them lost both parents at an early age. It turned out that the children from the shelter, like the injured mice, had higher fatty acid levels in their blood compared to children who did not survive such a shock.

- These children's traumatic experiences are comparable to the stress experienced by mice," commented Professor of Neuroepigenetics Isabelle Mansui on the study results. - We found that there are similar metabolic changes in the blood of animals and children. Thus, early trauma affects both mental and physical health in adulthood and across generations, which can be seen in factors such as lipid metabolism and glucose levels.

According to the authors, the results of the study will help to improve understanding of the nature of biological processes associated with childhood trauma, which will allow doctors to detect and prevent late consequences of adverse life experiences both in patients and their descendants.


Oct. 16, 2020, 12:30 p.m.

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