Have you ever wondered why you react to stress the way that you do? Maybe you’re really proud of your ability to be resilient in difficult situations or maybe you know that you could use some stress management tips. Well it turns out; your nose, hair, and laugh might not be the only traits you inherited from your father.
According to an LA Times article, “Several studies have shown that stress in early life not only can affect the individual’s behavior and cognitive functions, but can affect the next generation. So researchers have been eager to find any trace of changes in DNA coding that might underlie their observations.”
The LA Times article discusses a new study on male mice which has given us insight that may be transferable to humans as well. What was found is that “male mice subjected to unpredictable stressors produced offspring that showed more flexible coping strategies when under stress… The secret might be hidden in a small change in how certain genes are regulated in the sperm of the father and in the brains of offspring, the study found.”
Compared to a control group, while in a maze, the offspring of stressed dads were less hesitant in exploring the maze, could wait for greater rewards even when presented with an immediate reward, (such as sugar water as opposed to regular water), and they were more resourceful when it came to figuring out changed rules – finding rewards that were moved from one spot to another, and more easily recognized changed cues.
“Numerous studies of the effects of stress implicate a loop in the brain’s limbic system, which mediates emotion and causes the release of the stress hormone cortisol. That chemical can amp up a feedback loop to the brain. Much of this stress-related reaction in the brain is mediated, in part, by a mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) in brain cells. The study found small changes in regulatory DNA sequences near an MR gene in sperm cells of the stressed mice. Such changes in gene regulation in response to the environment are known as epigenetic processes. The study found epigenetic markers associated with a half-dozen genes in the brain cells in the hippocampus of the offspring of stressed male mice” says author Geoffrey Mohan.
We asked TRACOM’s Dr. Casey Mulqueen what his thoughts were regarding this new finding as he has just recently become a new dad! Dr. Mulqueen said, “As a new parent of a four-month-old boy, I sometimes worry that if I feel frustrated when he won’t fall asleep or feed from the bottle, it’s being passed onto him. It’s comforting to know that my distress might actually be beneficial to him, if not me! While the study with mice is interesting, I still think it’s best to stay calm and positive when interacting with the baby.”
Before you go thanking or blaming your dad for your capabilities in managing stressful situations, we must remember the study was based on mice and not on humans. While this study provides breakthrough information, much more research is needed before we can give full credit to dad, and while we might be one day able to point to a specific gene, the important thing to know is that our resiliency abilities can always be further developed.
To learn more about Resiliency click here.